Back in 2001, Tim Pawlenty introduced a new phrase into the political lexicon when he told a group of Minnesota Republicans that, “We need to be the party of Sam’s Club, not just the country club.”
In the years that followed, the term “Sam’s Club Republican” came to represent his belief that the GOP needed to do a better job addressing the concerns of the middle class rather than being seen as the party of the rich.
Speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday morning as he winds up for a likely presidential run, Pawlenty applied the term to tea partiers.
“When you listen to the elites and the pundits talk about the tea party movement, when they talk about us conservatives, they may not always say it explicitly, but implicit in their comments is, ‘Maybe they’re not as sophisticated because a lot of them didn’t go to the Ivy league schools,’” he said. “’They’re from places like the heartland. They don’t hang out at chablis drinking, brie eating parties in San Francisco. They’re a little rough around the edges. They don’t dress like us. They actually enjoy shopping at Wal-Mart and Target. Sam’s Club Republicans.’”
“We’re just kind of bumpkins,” he continued. “We’re not up to their standards. Here’s something that I think will give us a great deal of encouragement: history is on our side. The Constitution is on our side. We’re on the side of freedom.”
Pawlenty’s speech was filled with references to the populist backlash against the Democratic agenda. He even made an awkward joke that conservatives should learn a lesson from Tiger Woods’ wife and “take a 9-iron and smash the window of big government.”
The speech comes as Pawlenty continues to try to remake his image of being a moderate Republican ahead of his likely presidential run. Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform gave Pawlenty him a boost by introducing Pawlenty as a “Reagan Republican” who had “governed as a conservative.”
The belly of Pawlenty’s speech was devoted to laying out several fundamental principles.
The first was that “God is in charge.” He explained that the Declaration of Independence said we are “endowed by our creator” rather than Washington. “If it’s good enough for the founding fathers, it should be good enough for each of us,” he said.
Next he spoke about our unsustainable debt, and the need to control spending, just as he recalls his mother did when she struggled to pay bills as he was growing up. He warned about the looming entitlement crisis and America slumping into “beggar nation” status, beholden to China.
Moving to health care, he spoke about the importance of putting consumers in charge of their own spending as a way of containing costs. As an example, he theorized, if anybody in the audience could go to Best Buy and purchase whatever TVs they wanted, and send him the bill, how many would purchase a 12-inch black and white? He noted that the Minnesota government has been able to avoid premium increases for government employees by rewarding those who spend their health care dollars more efficiently. Health care is likely to be a leading line of attack for Pawlenty in a primary against Mitt Romney, because the plan Romney signed in Massachusetts was the blueprint for Obamacare.
He also spoke about national security, arguing that “bullies prey on weakness, not strength.” He said, “no more apology tours” and “no Miranda rights” for terrorists caught in this country.