In the roll-out of his Presidential campaign, Tim Pawlenty has tried to clearly differentiate himself from Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman on his left and Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin on his right. He has been careful to avoid statements that would draw fire from the Tea Party, while preserving negotiating room for himself from orthodox Tea Party positions. He has said that he is the one candidate who can unite all of the different elements in the Republican party. It is becoming clear that he intends to do this by following a strategy of triangulation on critical issues.
Let's take two issues as examples: Ethanol and Medicare. Romney is all for ethanol subsidies, but the Tea Party position is to abolish all subsidies, including ethanol. Pawlenty was widely hailed by conservatives for opposing ethanol and "farm" subsidies. In fact, upon close examination, he has proposed to "phase out" the subsidy for ethanol and all other energy sources. This "phasing out" has no timeline. In fact, if not renewed, the ethanol subsidy will expire next year. He also lumps this subsidy in with subsidies for the gas and oil industry which are opposed by Democrats as well as subsidies for "green" industries supported by the Democrats. And he announces his position in the state of Iowa. It is indeed a clever position.
On Medicare, he would sign Paul Ryan's proposal into law, given a choice between the Ryan proposal and doing nothing. But at the same time he is presenting his own proposal (so that there is a choice of proposals), which will include seniors being able to choose the current pay-for-services program. In other words, Pawlenty will not end Medicare as we know it, but provide options that reward good choices. Gingrich, on the other hand, called Ryan's proposal "right wing social engineering", and Romney has refused to endorse the Ryan plan by side-stepping the issue. Ryan himself has criticized Pawlenty's approach, but Pawlenty is being congratulated both for supporting Ryan's proposal and for taking on the issue of Medicare and entitlements--in the state of Florida. Another clever position.
Whether a strategy of triangulation proves to be a winner is still to be determined. Romney may have momentum and conservatives may want orthodoxy. But, for now, it is winning Pawlenty kudus from conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity while garnering favorable commentary in the MSM. This is truly a remarkable accomplishment. I can't wait to see the Pawlenty federal budget proposal. Expect it to be somewhere between the 2011 Budget Compromise, which he opposed, and the Republican Study Group proposal, which would get us to a balanced budget. Expect it to achieve the same numerical reduction as Ryan's budget, but with different (more palatable and more ambiguous) priorities. Expect it to get rave reviews.