Pawlenty’s Tough Line

July 15, 2011 10:47 a.m.

I went to a press lunch with Gov. Pawlenty today, hosted by Bloomberg News, where the former governor took a hard line on the on-going debt crisis negotiations. Let me share a few quick takeaways.1. Pawlenty took a hardline on the debt ceiling negotiations. He was still questioning whether default would really have the negative repercussions that everyone seems to suggest, specifically referencing the May statements of Stanley Druckenmiller. Would it really be so bad? “Maybe not … We don’t know.”

2. Pawlenty also stuck closely to the Hill Republican line on taxes suggesting repeatedly that if it came back to a choice between new taxes and default he’d opt for the latter option. At the end of the lunch, I returned to the question and asked him whether he had really meant to say that if it were a choice between the two he’d opt for default. He said that he and his party would not and could not accept tax increases.

3. Pawlenty clearly understood the implications of that remark and was quick to insist that in fact President Obama was taking the same line (saying he’d accept default if he didn’t get his core demands met). “Don’t say this is the crazy man in the basement,” he said, pressing reporters not to make it like it was some crazy position.

4. When asked whether he was willing to “just blow it up” in the debt negotiations, Pawlenty replied “I did blow it up in Minnesota.”

5. One of the most interesting things Pawlenty said was that he didn’t dispute that the public does not support the Republican position on the debt negotiations. But he said that wasn’t the standard that mattered to him, referencing President Bush’s decision to push the surge in 2007 in the clear face of public opposition.

6. One last point on the status of Pawlenty’s campaign. Both in terms of the outlook for his campaign and the rationale for it, Pawlenty argued that the logic of his campaign is based on his claim that neither Mitt Romney or Michele Bachmann is able to pull together the three main wings of the Republican political coalition. So while he didn’t put it in quite these terms, he suggested that he is if not the inevitable then the default candidate after it becomes clear that neither of these two leading candidates can close the deal. To be clear, he did not say this was inevitable and conceded that he needs to remain in the game long enough to play out. But I was struck by this rather mechanistic — and I would say not altogether implausible — argument for the viability of his campaign.

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