In the last four years, Tim Pawlenty has accomplished a lot, although it has been largely under-the-radar. He has successfully, but quietly, turned around his reputation: He has rebranded himself as definitively right of center. Few commentators question his credentials as a conservative now, but this was not the case four years ago when he was being considered as a possible running mate for John McCain.
Back then, the Wall Street Journal published a particularly scathing article about Pawlenty, accusing him of promoting “[a]ggressive, Nanny-state government” and deriding him as the “South St. Paul populist”.
CATO’s Michael Tanner also criticized Pawlenty in a 2008 web post entitled “A Big-Government Running Mate for McCain?” The post condemns his positions on several issues, from healthcare reform to smoking bans to education funding, as indicative of the “big-spending, big-government” mentality that hurt Republicans in the 2006 midterm elections.
And it wasn’t only those on the right who identified Pawlenty as a moderate-to-left-leaning VP candidate. The Washington Post, for instance, called Pawlenty “A Man Without a Country (Ideologically),” noting that neither evangelical conservatives nor fiscal conservatives were ready to claim the governor as one of their own.
The New York Times reported that Pawlenty once voted to expand gay and lesbian rights in Minnesota, and that he approved a tax (or “health impact fee”) on cigarettes, causing both fiscal and social conservatives to doubt his authenticity.
But these doubts about Pawlenty’s conservative character have all but disappeared now that his hat is in the ring for the presidency. The Washington Post now paints him as hawkish on war, and none other than conservative icon Rush Limbaugh called his staunch opposition to ethanol subsidies “politically gutsy.” Limbaugh also said Pawlenty had both the qualifications and “the guts” to take on Obama in a foreign policy debate and referred to the governor’s call to preserve the American dream and to change the country for the better as something “people really want”.
The New York Times, as well, is singing a different tune than it was in 2008, as its website now proclaims that Pawlenty is “consistently conservative on social and economic issues”.
Indeed, it appears that Tim Pawlenty has been able to completely reinvent himself and revamp his image. In only one election cycle he has gone from “populist” to “consistently conservative” and has become known as a true and comprehensively right-wing candidate.