Today, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty filed papers with the Federal Election Commission to launch a new PAC called Freedom First. Its objective, according to a statement, is to “help elect conservatives in 2009 and 2010.” But given reports that he is starting to put together a presidential campaign team, Pawlenty faced questions in a new media conference call this morning — the very first question, I believe, from Politics Daily‘s Matt Lewis — about whether this was really about 2012.
Pawlenty maintained that he has not decided whether he is going to seek the Republican presidential nomination, that his PAC legally and structurally is not about his own political ambitions, and that this will soon become clear when people see the results of its work on behalf of conservative candidates throughout the country over the next election cycle.
In his introductory remarks, Pawlenty spent a lot of time explaining why he picked “Freedom First” as the name of his PAC. He emphasized the importance of freedom and liberty as foundational principles for the country and party, talked about his record controlling spending in a liberal state, and pointed out that he accomplished the first cuts in real terms over a two-year budget cycle. Pawlenty noted the rhetorical disadvantage conservatives are at competing against candidates who promise to give out “free stuff.” Pawlenty said that people in distress are likely to grab at the first floating object they find to keep their heads above water. It’s up to conservatives to explain that the free stuff doesn’t really come free.
This is noteworthy because Pawlenty — coiner of the term “party of Sam’s Club” — has been a candidate some big-government conservatives hoped would run on their vision. But Pawlenty’s strong emphasis on fiscal conservatism and issues like school choice seems to run counter to that. In fact, he talked enough about liberty, freedom, and the Founders that at times he almost sounded like Ron Paul-enty.