There is an axiom in politics that applies to Tim Pawlenty’s appearances on network shows this morning after last night’s debate: If you’re explaining, you’re losing. Pawlenty appeared on CNN, Fox, and CBS today to aggressively push back against the overnight conclusion that he had lost ground in the CNN presidential debate, mainly be refusing to attack Mitt Romney in person rather than Barack Obama. National Journal covered his CNN and Fox appearances, and his rebuttal to critics:
Republican Insiders thought that Pawlenty, who many see as Romney’s biggest threat right now, erred when he seemed to distance himself from his critique of Romney’s health care plan in Massachusetts and “Obamneycare,” the term he coined last Sunday to describe the president’s Massachusetts-inspired health care plan.
“Who is going to write a check to the guy who pulls his punches?” asked one GOP Insider. “He looked foolish in the beginning by disowning ‘Obamney-care’ and lacked confidence,” said another. “Missed an opportunity to join Romney as a cut above the other candidates,” said a third.
On news shows throughout the morning, Pawlenty was repeatedly asked about the decision not to hit Romney on health care, as he did on Sunday. But he insisted on Fox & Friends that he had attacked.
“I said essentially the same thing in [the debate] as I did Sunday morning, which is that President Obama used the Massachusetts health care plan as the blueprint, and that’s why I dubbed it Obamneycare, and I used that same term last night. So I don’t understand what the kerfuffle’s about. I said the same thing in both appearances,” he said.
The idea was obviously to focus fire on the President, as Pawlenty explains, but he did throw that punch just a day earlier. That set expectations that Pawlenty would go on the offensive and position himself for the obvious strategy of being the conservative alternative to Romney, the early but weak frontrunner. Backing away from his own jab may have been intended to set a tone that comports with Reagan’s 11th Commandment, but that had already been broken, and it’s hardly bad form to draw distinctions between one’s opponents and one’s self in a presidential debate.
Pawlenty’s appearances and rebuttals can be seen in their full context in the following videos and transcripts, which the campaign is aggressively moving today:
Reporter: Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty also participated in the debate, and joins us from Manchester. Good morning.
Pawlenty: Good morning, Erica.
Reporter: There’s a lot of talk this morning, of course, about that term ObamneyCare which you coined on Sunday and really seemed to back away from last night. Did someone prior to the debate sit down and say, look, we don’t want to use that term anymore, back off of it?
Pawlenty: No, it’s a term I used on a Sunday morning show to make the point that President Obama admitted that he used the Massachusetts health care plan as the blueprint for ObamaCare. And last night during the debate I was first trying to respond to the audience questioner Sylvia. And then when pressed by the moderator I did use that term again.
Reporter: But it was a term that was then tweeted afterwards by some of the folks in your campaign.
Well, it was a term that I used also — I did also use it during the debate when the moderator asked me about it in the last part of that question.
Reporter: It seemed to be overall a very friendly debate. This is the first one, of course, the seven of you up there on stage. There weren’t a lot of shots taken. Was that something that had been discussed? Or did anyone come to any of you ahead of time and say, look, let’s make this first one kind of nice?
Pawlenty: I think what you saw last night is a party that’s united on the understanding that we need to get Barack Obama out of the White House. He’s had his chance, his policies aren’t working. We’ve got crushing levels of unemployment. We’ve got $4 a gallon gas. We’ve got a federal government that’s out of control. And I had an opportunity last night to present my vision for America, which is to reduce taxes and regulation and get investment and jobs growing again in this country. And a big part of the debate was focused on my plan to do that and I was grateful for that opportunity. But we’re united in trying to defeat Barack Obama. There will be some differences amongst republicans, as well. But, last night the focus was on the President.
Reporter: Your fellow Minnesotan representative Michele Bachmann announced her candidacy last night. What do you think is the most significant difference between the two of you?
Pawlenty: Well, each candidate, regardless of whether it’s Representative Bachmann or someone else, brings different things to the table. In my case I have an upbringing that’s a blue collar upbringing that’s, I think a lot of people appreciate in terms of connecting at the heart, given some life experiences of facing life’s challenges. But also I function as an executive. And have led a state, large enterprise, in growing jobs, cutting taxes, reducing spending, appointing conservative judges to the court and many other things like that. And lastly, we each have a vision for America. And that was part of the debate last night, as well.
Reporter: As an executive of that state, though, when you left office there was a pretty significant deficit. As we know, jobs and the economy are the number one focus. I believe the latest CBS news poll, 48% of Americans say that’s the most important thing to them. So they may be a little concerned when they look at a candidate who left office with a deficit.
Pawlenty: Well, that’s not accurate, Erica. The last budget when I left office doesn’t even end yet, it ends this summer and it’s going to end with a surplus and the deficit relates to the upcoming two years after that. That’s based on 20-plus% spending projected increases that I would have never allowed as governor of Minnesota.
Reporter: So you say that was on the person who took over after you?
Pawlenty: The budget that is in effect now is the one that I last left and it’s going to end with a surplus. In fact, I’ve got one of the best financial records in the country. The Cato Institute gave only four governors an “A” grade for financial management and the other three aren’t running for president.
Reporter: Well, there will be plenty of talk of financial management in the next few months. We appreciate your time this morning, sir. Thank you.
Pawlenty: Thank you.
Reporter: Joining us live from New Hampshire this morning is republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty. Thanks for being with us this morning.
Pawlenty: Good morning. Good to be with you.
Reporter: I watched the debate last night and then I was reading a lot of the articles and reaction this morning, and a lot of people are wondering why you didn’t take the chance to give some hard-hitting criticism of Mitt Romney’s health care reform last night when you were with him on stage.
Pawlenty: Well, there was a question asked from the audience by Sylvia that I was trying to respond to. And when John asked about the ObamneyCare reference I repeated what I did say on the Sunday morning show which is President Obama was the one who indicated that he used the Massachusetts health care plan as the blueprint for ObamaCare. So it was restated in essentially the same way as I said it on Sunday morning.
Host: Did you miss an opportunity to more strongly differentiate how you feel about not only the health care bill, but the Massachusetts law as well?
Pawlenty: Well, again, the debate was focused primarily on Barack Obama and his failure as a president. We’ve got high levels of unemployment, $4 a gallon gas, a federal government that’s out of control. There’s going to be some differences between republican candidates, but the focus last night was on Barack Obama and I did, again, highlight that President Obama himself is the one who said that ObamaCare was designed after the Massachusetts heath care plan.
Reporter: All right. So bottom line is you and Mitt Romney are going to be competitors at least if either one of you will get shot at challenging the President. Why are your ideas about what to do with our health care crisis, which we do have, better than Mitt Romney’s?
Pawlenty: Well, I think ObamaCare is a top down command and control system that has individual mandates, it has limited choices that government’s going to regulate. It’s going to tax more. We took a very different approach in Minnesota. We want health care reform and we’re really leading the nation in it. But it’s more based on consumers and freedom and market choices and letting people decide what’s best for them and their families rather than government.
Reporter: Is it unrealistic though to think that what works at the state level can work nationwide?
Pawlenty: Well what we know works for sure not just at states but nationwide is markets. When people are given the freedom to choose what’s best for them and their families and having accountability not just for volumes of procedures performed but paying providers for value and for results, those are the kinds of reforms we did in Minnesota. They work and they deliver good results. It’s very different than ObamaCare, very different than having mandates and government takeovers. We did it the other way.
Reporter: In a National Journal political insider poll last night, they chose Romney as the winner of the debate and chose you as, quote, the biggest loser. Why do you think that some of these republicans are panning your performance? 26% say you were the biggest loser in the debate.
Pawlenty: Well, I think I saw a a poll on your station last night that had me in the top three or four of some National Journal experts or the like. Nonetheless , I think people may have been expecting an attack on Mitt Romney and I just repeated what I said on the Sunday show and tried to focus on President Obama
Reporter: I also want to ask you a question. You put out an interesting article about what your economic plan would be for getting us out of our high unemployment, getting us out of the economic troubles we’ve been in. And a Bloomberg op-ed called your tax plan at least, quote, magical thinking, saying that your plan to cut taxes on business and investment and high earners would then lead to 5% growth every year for a decade is something that neither the Reagan boom nor the Clinton boom could achieve. Could you give me some more detail on how that would actually happen?
Pawlenty: Sure. And respected economists like John Taylor at Stanford, by the way, Steve Forbes wrote yesterday that my plan actually would work and 5% growth is achievable but it starts with this premise — what we’re doing now isn’t working. President Obama’s got the country on the wrong track. Millions of Americans are hurting and are underemployed or unemployed. And we need to try something positive and optimistic about job growth in this country. My plan lays it out. I’m the only one in the race with a plan, and I presented that last night. But it includes massive tax cuts to try to stimulate the economy, it includes reducing spending, but also regulatory reform, permitting reform energy reform, health care reform, and if you do those things and shrink government we will grow the private economy and grow jobs in this country.
Reporter: The question was asked but I will ask you again, I know there were six other people on the stage with you last night, why didn’t that work in the Bush era then? With the massive, massive tax cuts that obviously didn’t lead to job growth or we wouldn’t’ be at 9.1% unemployment right now.
Pawlenty: If you look back at the history of tax cuts under John Kennedy, under Reagan, under President Bush, the second, you just isolate on the effects of those tax cuts, they do grow government revenues and they do stimulate the economy. But you’ve got to also look at what else happened during those eras. We’re not proposing to also raise government spending. We want to reduce government spending and reform government in a more pro jobs, pro growth direction. And if you do that you’ll have a better result. And the folks who have looked at my plan, like I said John Taylor, Steve Forbes, these are credible, seasoned people, said not only is it going to work, but it’s necessary to get the country out of the doldrums that President Obama has us in.
Reporter: Great to talk you this morning, Tim Pawlenty, presidential candidate for 2012, as well as former Minnesota governor.
Pawlenty: Thank you.
On Fox and Friends, Pawlenty takes a jab about being “vanilla” with, er, good humor:
Panel: We’ve heard the republican presidential hopefuls face-off last night. Fresh off the punches, form minnesota governor Pawlenty joins us live from Manchester, New Hampshire. Good morning.
Pawlenty: Good morning.
Panel: We want to play a little clip from last night. Because it looked like your chance to attack Mitt Romney. You’d done it the day before and you didn’t last night.Here’s what you said.
Pawlenty (From Debate): President Obama is the person who I quoted in saying that he looked to Massachusetts for designing his program. He’s the one who said it’s a blueprint and that he merged the two programs, so using the term ObamneyCare was a reflection of the President’s comments that he designed ObamaCare on the Massachusetts healthcare plan.
Panel: So Governor, what happened? On Sunday, on the Chris Wallace Show, you attacked the former governor of Massachusetts, calling it ObamneyCare. You had a chance last night, why didn’t you follow through?
Pawlenty: Well Steve, I said essentially the same thing in that clip as I did on Sunday morning. Which is President Obama used the Massachusetts health care plan as a blueprint. That’s how I dubbed it Obamneycare, and I used it last night. I don’t understand what the kerfuffle is about. I said essentially the same thing in both appearances.
Panel: But in the follow up by John King, he gave you another layup chance with Mitt Romney standing right next to you to also attack the fact that Mitt Romney was the first person to have universal healthcare in his state. Some people are saying, governor, that you are just too nice to be president. What do you say?
Pawlenty: Gretchen, of course, as I mentioned on Sunday, President Obama said they are the same plans, that’s why I used the term ObamneyCare on Sunday and I said essentially the same thing on Monday. You have to look at both clips. The bottom line is, when you are running against the president of the United States, you’re going to have to distinguish yourself, your plans and your ideas. I’m going to be able to do that because I took a different direction in Minnesota. The president is saying his plan is the same as the Massachusetts plan. But there wasn’t a difference between what I said on Sunday and what I said last night.
Panel: You know, Robert Gibbs was on a short time ago, and he said before and said last night, the economic principles that were spouted out by the republicans on stage last night, including you, were the same ones that got us into this mess to begin with. You have a detailed economic plan out there. You talk about cutting corporate taxes in half, to be real simple, the economic growth being above 5%. What do you say to that?
Pawlenty: I say it’s not only achievable but it’s needed. It’s backed up by Larry Kudlow, John Taylor, the economist at Stanford, and Steve Forbes and others. We have to get this country moving again. We have a country stuck in neutral or reverse and we have to put it in drive or overdrive. President Obama is someone who accepts an anemic level of growth. He doesn’t even have a plan. You can’t find him on what he’s going to do about government spending reform and he doesn’t have a plan to get the economy moving. The plan that he did try failed, and now we have to try something different. What I’m proposing is to grow the economy by shrinking government.
Panel: One other topic we will like to work in, governor, and that is on the Bill O’reilly show on Friday night he was talking to Chris Wallace. And your name came up and so did Donald Trump. Listen to this.
Bill O’Reilly: He has to get a little Trump in him. Haagan Daas can put his picture on vanilla — look, the guy is invisible!
Panel: Governor, are you too vanilla?
Pawlenty: I think Bill is playing the race card on me,number one. And I told him that. So he’s invited me to come on his show so I’m going to talk a little smack with him. But vanilla is the best selling ice cream in the country for a reason. People know what they are going to get and they like it. It’s steady, it’s stable, and it’s seasoned, and that’s what the country needs. We don’t need any more empty rhetoric. My goodness, we’ve had three years of the nonsense of President Obama. I’m not run for entertainer in chief, I’m not run for comedian in chief. If you want that, go to Broadway or Las Vegas.
Panel: That was a great response about vanilla being the most popular. But I did notice about 6 months ago when you came on this show and you started to say you were thinking about running for president, there was a decidedly different tone about Tim Pawlenty during that interview that day. You were tougher, you were out there to win it. I think that’s what O’Reilly is talking about it. Do you understand that part of it?
Pawlenty: Of course. If you are going to run for president, and anybody who says I lack toughness, look at my record. Look at my record in Minnesota, Gretchen. I had the first government shut down in 150 years. Did anybody else in the race do that over tax or spending matters? I set a record for vetoes to reign in spending. Did anybody else do that? No. I actually had more executive unallotments using my power as governor to take more spending out of the budget in my 8 years as governor than in the 142 years combined. I had one of the longest transit strikes in history before it was cool to do public employee pension reform.
Panel: Governor, vanilla beats rocky road every day. You did very well last night. We hope to talk to you again.
Pawlenty: Thanks a lot.
As I wrote earlier in the day, this is still pretty early in the process, and no one did any permanent damage to their prospects. Other than this inexplicable fade, Pawlenty actually did rather well last night. This was just an opportunity missed, and a learning experience for a first-time national candidate. But it will mean that in the next debate, Pawlenty will need to take a tougher tack with his competitors, especially since he needs to generate some excitement among the party’s primary base.