Tim Pawlenty’s Sam’s Club Republicanism

The party needs to reach out to working- and middle-class voters, argues the former Minnesota governor.

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty attends an event in Phoenix, Arizona, February 26, 2011
Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty attends an event in Phoenix, Arizona, February 26, 2011 (Gage Skidmore)

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty has been touting his latest book, Courage to Stand, on America’s talk shows this week where he was asked both to reflect on the future of the Republican Party and talk about his own presidential ambitions.

Pawlenty is frank about considering to run for president. “I’m not cute about it,” he told MSNBC’s Morning Joe yesterday, adding that he will announce his decision in the spring.

He explained to Sean Hannity on Fox News the night before why he still has doubts. “One is the needs of the country,” he said and what he might bring to the national debate.

If he runs, Pawlenty will try to appeal to more than country-club Republicans. He’s coined the phrase “Sam’s Club Republican,” referring to the chain of retail warehouses that services largely small businessowners, to emphasize that Republicans need to be able to speak to working- and middle-class voters.

“In other words, we’ve got to expand our party out,” he said on Morning Joe.

“Minnesota’s Ronald Reagan”

As a Republican governor in a traditionally liberal state, Pawlenty has been called “Minnesota’s Ronald Reagan” because of his disarming public image and ability to sell conservative policy solutions to nonconservative voters. He managed to balance the state’s budget without raising taxes and is still critical of both the federal government and other states that are unable to rein in spending.

Pawlenty called Illinois, which recently said it would raise income taxes by up to 66 percent, utterly “dysfunctional”. He added that people in the state were actually overtaxed.

In Minnesota by contrast, Pawlenty “moved the needle dramatically on spending, on taxes, on school reform, on health care reform from a market standpoint,” he told Hannity on Tuesday.

He was able to cut infrastructure and welfare spending — something that cannot be avoided on the federal level as well.

Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security combined already account for a third of federal spending. With health care reform, entitlement spending is expected to swallow up half of Washington’s budget by the end of this decade. It is a disaster in the making and Pawlenty admitted on MSNBC, “You can’t fix this problem unless you tackle and reform and restructure entitlements.”

He hasn’t committed to concrete ways to cut entitlement spending yet but did say on Fox News in November of last year that “Obamacare is one of the worst pieces of legislation in the modern history of the country” and that it should be repealed.


Even if he staunchly opposes many of the Obama Administration’s interventionists policies, Pawlenty may be considered too much of a moderate to appeal to Tea Party activists who fear that the country is sliding down a path to tyranny.

On Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, he would not condemn tea partiers who subscribe to such a philosophy. “I think it’s okay for conservatives and others to say, as government crowds in and you crowd out me and what used to be there for family or markets or charity or whatever, you’re kind of limiting my choices, my freedom, my liberty.”

Another concern may be Pawlenty’s lack of charisma or “star power” which so defined President Reagan.

“There is a time in history where sometimes entertainment or drama is more important,” he admitted on Fox last year. “There is other times when substance and track record and results are more important and right now, I put my record up against any governor in the country.”