A few minutes ago, I interviewed Gov. Tim Pawlenty about his official entry into the race, which will occur this afternoon in Iowa, and his campaign theme of “Time for Truth.” As I noted earlier today, Pawlenty offered a sneak peek of this new approach by specifically focusing on farm subsidies, a particularly difficult issue in Iowa. I asked Pawlenty whether Iowans are ready for that much truth, and he believes they are. “We can’t fix this [the fiscal crisis] if we take the position that we’re only going to cut someone else’s stuff,” Pawlenty says. “We’re going to look the people of Iowa in the eye and talk about the need to gradually reduce over time ethanol subsidies. We’re going to go down to Florida and talk about the need to fix Social Security to seniors,” he explained, not by changing it for current recipients but by making changes to the retirement age “for the next generation.” Pawlenty says that afterwards, he’ll go to Wall Street and tell them that the era of bailouts are over:
Pawlenty praised Paul Ryan’s approach to the budget, saying that he has shown more leadership than Barack Obama, whose original plan was to trim $40 billion a year in spending while deficits ran past the trillion-dollar mark. He has his own budget proposal to make soon, which will differ from Ryan’s in some key ways. Pawlenty noted that Ryan avoided Social Security reform for good reason, considering the state of play in Washington, but that his plan will include that in reforms, but his Medicare reform will look “a little different” than Ryan’s.
I asked him about his perceived toughness, since this will be a long, hard slog. Don’t confuse politeness with weakness, Pawlenty told me, listing his battles with the Democratic legislature and the transit workers’ union. He shut down the government here over a budget fight, for instance, and issued a record number of vetoes. Not surprisingly, Pawlenty says that Republicans should look for a candidate with a strong, successful executive track record for the best possible contrast with Obama. “If people want a Comedian in Chief or Entertainer in Chief, they should vote for somebody else,” Pawlenty said. “But if you want a serious, seasoned, strong, thoughtful person who gets results in a tough environment and tough circumstances, then I’m your candidate.”
Update: How will the austerity message be received in Iowa? We’ll see, but the speech has a pretty good line to set it up:
Politicians are often afraid that if they’re too honest, they might lose an election. I’m afraid that in 2012, if we’re not honest enough, we may lose our country.
We’ll see if that gives him an applause line when farm subsidies come up, but he’s serious about bringing them into the debate.