Counter Point: Choices are good: The Case for Tim Pawlenty

One thing I like about being a Minnesota Republican is that we have an incendiary provocateur in John Gilmore who writes and tweets every anti-establishment thought in his head, allowing us to engage in intraparty discussions about the many lessons of Trump.

One thing I don’t like about being a Minnesota Republican is that when Gilmore bloviates, many of our party’s leaders hyperventilate instead of responding substantively to use that discussion to sharpen our thoughts and message.

I’m sure this week’s Alpha News column by Gilmore caused a record number of Minnesota Republican leaders to grab for the nearest paper bag, either to breathe or to purge. That’s because Gilmore called Tim Pawlenty the “Nowhere Man” who should not run for governor because (a) he’s a swamp creature, (b) he’s artificial, (c) he can’t win, and (d) he can’t even get on the ballot.

My rebuttal to Gilmore can be stated in three words: choices are good. I want Tim Pawlenty to run for governor because I’m in favor of letting the voters select the best Republican candidate to beat [insert your least-favorite Democrat here]. In an election that matters far more than most, I want every credible Republican gubernatorial candidate to try to get his or her message to resonate with the voters. If he or she succeeds, then that’s our candidate. If he or she doesn’t, then next batter up. I’m sure Gilmore would agree that no one has this gubernatorial competition sewn up, so why not increase our Republican odds by adding another visible, credible choice?

While that’s my short response to Gilmore’s literal argument, it’s always best to take Gilmore seriously, not literally. And the serious point I see in Gilmore’s column is that Tim Pawlenty’s candidacy is not perfect and has issues. To which I respond, “Duh.”

Every candidate has issues. In business it’s said that the enemy of good is perfect, a saying that’s even truer in politics. No one believes that Pawlenty is the perfect political candidate, otherwise he’d be President Pawlenty in his second term right now. But Pawlenty is a pretty good Minnesota candidate. And since I’m a native Minnesotan, calling someone “pretty good” qualifies as high praise.

Let’s start with the pretty good job Pawlenty did with government spending when he was governor from 2003 to 2011. Coming into office, Pawlenty inherited a two-year budget deficit of $4.3 billion due to the mess that was the Ventura administration. Fast forward 8 years and Pawlenty’s last budget decreased net government expenditures. Not decreased the rate of growth, but decreased the dollars that Minnesota state government spent.
In between those years, Pawlenty averaged a 3.5% increase for each of his two-year budgets. That’s pretty good, especially considering that the Democrats controlled at least one branch of the Minnesota legislature during each of Pawlenty’s years. So while Pawlenty couldn’t get everything he wanted, just take a look at the graph below and see if you can spot which year Governor Dayton took control of our budget.

Next, let’s address Gilmore’s contention that Pawlenty shouldn’t run because he’s a failure as a presidential candidate and successful as the leader of a financial services trade association. If there’s one take-away from Trump’s victory, it’s that details don’t matter, whether it’s a personal failure or a financial success. Feelings drive voting decisions, and those feelings are determined not by labels, but by how authentic a candidate is perceived by the voters.

So how does Tim Pawlenty measure up on the Minnesota authenticity meter? Well, he’s a native son, his mother died of cancer when he was 16, he worked his way through law school, he is exceedingly polite, and he still looks good at 57. Nothing disqualifying there.

But that’s all old stuff, according to Gilmore. Now, Pawlenty will come off as “the worst of the political swamp” because he’s working with a “pre-installed swamp” from the MZA & Co. lobbying firm. Anyone who believes that Brian McClung’s regularly appearances on the TV show “At Issue” will haunt Pawlenty in the governor’s race must be one of the three people in Minnesota who regularly watches “At Issue.” Or one of the four Minnesotans who know that MZA isn’t an offshoot of MDA.

So that leaves Gilmore’s final objection – that Pawlenty’s not electable today. Obviously, just because he won two previous statewide races does not mean Pawlenty’s a lock to do it again (See, e.g. Tom Brady). A lot has changed in politics in the era of Trump, and it remains to be seen how Pawlenty can connect with voters in the Trump era. But if we’re selecting our Republican candidates solely based on their chances of winning in November, I’d rather go with a two-time winner than a guy who lost both his previous state-wide elections.

If Tim Pawlenty decides to run for governor, he will have to present his Ideas on how to lead Minnesota today in education, tax reform, immigration and state spending. I want to hear that, and I want Minnesota Republicans to get the benefit of the publicity that would bring into this race. So unlike John Gilmore, I welcome a chance to choose Pawlenty, again.

Howard Root is the retired CEO of Vascular Solutions, Inc. and author of Cardiac Arrest: Five Heart-Stopping Years as a CEO on the Feds’ Hit-List.

Howard Root