Mitt Romney’s campaign looks like it intends to make a major issue out of President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” comment.
And that may not bode well for Tim Pawlenty’s chances of being Romney’s vice president.
At given points in his political career, Pawlenty has emphasized the good work that government can do, and at one point, in 2006, he was quoted as saying the “era of small government is over.”
“I’m a market person, but there are certain circumstances where you’ve got to have government put up the guardrails or bust up entrenched interested before they become too powerful,” he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune during his reelection campaign. “Government has to be more proactive, more aggressive.”
Pawlenty’s press office was quick to separate him from the money quote — “the era of small government is over” — and prevailed on the newspaper to run a clarification stating that Pawlenty was referencing a David Brooks column that used that phrase.
But the damage was done.
The comment was already brought up during the GOP primary, when Rep. Michele Bachmann attacked Pawlenty on it. And Rush Limbaugh asked Pawlenty about it last year, too, at which point Pawlenty said “that incorrect quote has haunted me.”
PolitiFact evaluated Bachmann’s claim that Pawlenty had uttered those words, and found that it was “mostly true” because it appeared that Pawlenty agreed with Brooks’s sentiment.
Regardless, as with Obama’s “You didn’t build that” quote, Pawlenty’s “era of small government is over” quote is likely to be taken at face value. And that poses a problem if Pawlenty is indeed a part of Romney’s vice presidential short list, as reports indicate.
Pawlenty may argue that his quote was taken out of context, but that’s precisely the argument that Obama and the Democrats are making about Obama’s quote. In both cases, it’s a tough argument to make.
And even if he does distances himself from the money quote, the rest of his quote in the Star Tribune makes clear that Pawlenty favored a “more proactive” and “more aggressive” government. Those clauses say basically the same thing as the “era of small government is over.”
It doesn’t necessarily disqualify Pawlenty. After all, these things can be massaged, and a vice presidential candidate’s past quotes don’t mean nearly as much as those of the candidate leading the ticket. What’s more, this issue may pass after a while, and Romney has more than a month to make his pick.
But if the Romney campaign sees “You didn’t build that” as a silver bullet come the fall, it may balk at picking a candidate who has expressed some of the same sentiments that Obama expresses about government’s role in society.