It strikes me as a big deal, in GOP 2012 politics terms, that Tim Pawlenty has come out firmly opposed to Congress raising the debt ceiling. Although he's toyed with the notion before, it's really just in the past few days -- including his speech at Friday's Tea Party rally in Boston -- that Pawlenty has flat-out called for a no vote.
It's obviously an attempt to appeal to Tea Party-ish conservative activists. Pawlenty wants to be the true-blue conservative of the major candidates -- and also wants to fire up some of those activists to start signing up on the campaign.
That's the upside. But man, it sure seems like a big risk to me.
Most Republican establishment types, and particularly the business-and-finance folks with the checkbooks, see not raising the debt ceiling as lunacy. And not the kind of harmless lunacy that whips up the conservative base, but lunacy with real consequences. Thos establishment types, generally speaking, are fine with the Tea Party types voting Republican, and even getting into office -- as long as someone trustworthy is in charge of them, to keep them from actually doing crazy things.
So I think this latest rhetoric could really hurt Pawlenty among that crowd -- and if that crowd holds back from him, he's not going to raise enough money in Q2 to look like a serious player with Romney and Barbour.
The fascinating question to me is: what will Mitt do?
In my latest column, I suggested that Romney needs to stop "slutting" to the Tea Party. I believe that yes, the conservative base will go shopping for a more ideologically pure candidate, but that he needs to trust that when it comes time to commit, they'll come back to the guy who's remained serious and grown-up.
So, I think Romney should come out firmly in favor of raising the debt ceiling. In fact, I would have him call for a "clean" vote for it, without any bargaining at all -- because once you start suggesting any terms, you're suggesting that you would vote no if those terms aren't met. And then what do you do if they aren't?
Of course, everything we know about Romney says that he will do exactly the opposite.
But that's exactly my point. The way to beat his reputation as inauthentic and untrustworthy, is not by doing more pandering, but by actually sticking with positions that seem politically difficult.
If Romney comes out firmly for raising the debt ceiling, he will get pilloried by many on the right. But he will also draw a clean divide between responsible and irresponsible, with Pawlenty on the wrong side of that line.