Yesterday, in a post lamenting Mitch Daniels' decision to forego a presidential run, I expressed my disappointment with what I believed to be Tim Pawlenty's willingness to adopt Bushian dogma on a series of critical issues, and my resulting disapproval of his rightward swing.
But yesterday, Pawlenty -- who has gotten nowhere by pandering -- demonstrated serious political courage by announcing his opposition to ethanol subsidies ... in Des Moines, Iowa. In 2008, John McCain made it very clear that he thought that ethanol subsidies were a waste of money, and as a result, he didn't even bother campaigning in Iowa. Pawlenty, on the other hand, probably has to win Iowa outright to have a serious chance at the nomination. As a result, his verbal takedown of King Corn was a very bold -- and perhaps politically foolish -- move. Today, he will be in Florida to announce his support for raising the retirement age and means-testing Social Security -- both positions that were championed by Daniels. And he'll be speaking to an audience that is made up, in part, of senior citizens. These are courageous moves, demonstrating a willingness to put principle over politics that we haven't seen from Pawlenty in months. He deserves great credit for taking these stands, especially as his presidential campaign isn't even two days old.
There is a Mitch Daniels-sized hole in the race. Daniels' Saturday night/Sunday morning announcement rocked the Republican field and eliminated the party's most electable candidate. At this point, with Santorum and Gingrich demagoguing, Romney flip-flopping, Cain broke and the libertarians quiet, there is a massive hole in the middle of the party. Pawlenty's recent statements demonstrate an intention to drive a truck through it.
Pawlenty rose to prominence in the national discussion by being a reasonable, likable, pragmatic governor. It is clear his pandering has not paid off. If he jettisons the demagoguery and can co-opt the Daniels message, he will be very difficult for me to ignore.