There was a time when Pawlenty might have worried that jauntily mingling with Aspen’s elite and banking big checks from Wall Street would clash with the midwestern, up-by-the-bootstraps brand he meticulously maintained throughout his gubernatorial career and presidential campaign.
But T-Paw, as he was nicknamed during the GOP primaries, doesn’t have to worry anymore about projecting the image of an everyman — flying coach, feasting on fast food, occasionally slipping into an unearned southern drawl on the stump. He promised his presidential ambitions were over: “I’m not running a second time.” And so, he’s enjoying the spoils of political celebrity, unencumbered by the demands of a Republican base that want folksiness, approachability, and doctrinaire adherence to conservative orthodoxy.
Pawlenty, untethered, is free to dispense vacation advice for Aspen-goers, heap praise upon Nate Silver, a boogeyman blogger to most of the right, and even urge his party to moderate its approach to same-sex marriage.
“When you have a vast majority of people under 40 supporting gay rights and gay marriage, that’s a pretty good predictor of what future laws are going to look like,” he told me. (When I pressed him on whether his own personal position had evolved, he said, “I have been a supporter of traditional marriage.”)