On NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty criticized rival Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn.) congressional record, which, admittedly, is a little thin. It wasn’t the first time T-Paw has singled Bachmann out, nor would it be the last. But to the “Meet the Press” appearance, Bachmann issued a response.

Here’s what Pawlenty had to say, first:

I like Congresswoman Bachmann. I’ve campaigned for her. I respect her. But her record of accomplishment in Congress is nonexistent. … And so we’re not looking for folks who, you know, just have speech capabilities. We’re looking for people who can lead a large enterprise in a public setting and drive it to a conclusion. I’ve done that and she hasn’t.

Yep, exactly the sort of backhanded compliment that does more for other candidates than it does for Pawlenty, who, unfortunately and in the vein of his early “quit worrying about bus tours” comment, comes across looking a little insecure himself.

Bachmann spun it all beautifully in the statement her staff sent out yesterday evening, casting herself as the upbeat candidate against Pawlenty’s dreary carping:

This is an election about the future of our nation – one where voters will have to decide who is best equipped to lead our nation by looking at our records, as well as our vision for the nation. Instead of negativity, I want to focus on my accomplishments.

I have fought the cap-and-trade agenda, rather than implement it, and I will work to end cap-and-trade as President of the United States. I stood up against President Obama’s support of the $700 billion bailout rather than defend it.

I was a leading voice, fighting against Obamacare and the unconstitutional individual mandates; I did not lift my voice in praise of it. My message brought tens of thousands of Americans to Washington D.C. to oppose Obamacare. As President I will not rest until Obamacare is repealed. And I will not vote to raise the debt ceiling.

People can count on me as a fighter; I am proud of my record of fighting with resolve, and without apology, for our free markets, for sane fiscal policies, and in opposition to the advancement of the big government left. As President, the American people can count on me to stand by my record of advancing pro-growth policies to put our nation back on the right track.

Arguably, the statements she makes about the future (“As President I will not rest until Obamacare is repealed. And I will not vote to raise the debt ceiling.”) matter more than the statements she makes about her past. They indicate what her presidential priorities would be — and the issues she selected as a representative sample hint at just how in-touch with the electorate she’d be.

As far as that actual past goes, she can’t magically make it substantive — and she’ll have to keep battling the obvious observation that she has no executive experience throughout the primaries (if not from her competitors, than from outside outlets). But, to make another obvious observation, neither did President Barack Obama. At any rate, at least one analyst thinks “tilting at windmills” in Congress could actually help Bachmann’s campaign:

Bachmann’s purity makes her largely irrelevant in Congress. She’s not part of the debt ceiling negotiations or someone the leadership consults with on much of anything.

That same purity — coupled with Republican voters’ widespread disdain for “the way Washington works” — is a major strength for Bachmann in the presidential race.

Rating Bachmann’s chances on the numbers of bills she’s sponsored or passed into law is a mistaken measure. Her strength in a Republican primary is based in her willingness to charge at windmills. And, she has done plenty of that during her congressional tenure.