T-Paw’s Five Greatest Challenges
It’s possible to see how he gets the nomination on paper, but if it’s actually to happen, he has questions to answer.


Ramesh Ponnuru

5. Will foreign policy matter?

Pawlenty seems to be the most hawkish of the top three candidates. He has called for a no-fly zone and the use of special forces to depose Qaddafi — and criticized Obama for deferring to the U.N. (“that pathetic organization”). He wants to take a stronger stand against the Assad regime in Syria as well, beginning with the recall of our ambassador. At CPAC earlier this year, he said of the Obama administration’s policies, “We undermine Israel, the U.K., Poland, the Czech Republic, and Colombia, among other friends. Meanwhile, we appease Iran, Russia, and adversaries in the Middle East, including Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.” He has gone out of his way to argue against relying on cuts to the defense budget to solve our fiscal problems.

Huntsman seems to favor a more cautious foreign policy, and Romney a more trade-driven one. Pawlenty is almost alone in his advocacy of a Bush-style policy of promoting liberty abroad. That difference hasn’t come to the forefront — even the conservative foreign-policy intellectuals his position would please seem largely unaware of it — but it raises a series of questions.

How hawkish are conservative primary voters? Were they committed to Bush because of the Iraq and Afghan wars, or vice-versa? Governors Daniels and Barbour, when they were considering running, seemed to be betting that Republican voters were tired of spending blood and treasure abroad. Pawlenty is betting the other way.

But it’s also not clear that primary voters will ever concentrate on foreign-policy questions. They didn’t in 2008, which was the first open contest for the Republican nomination since September 11. And Pawlenty has almost no foreign-policy experience, which may not make him a compelling spokesman for his point of view.

So far, Governor Pawlenty has had a great spring. His name recognition has slowly risen, candidates who could eclipse him as rivals to Romney have bowed out, and he has gotten some favorable press. But his rise is about to bring him much more scrutiny, from the press, from voters, and from other presidential candidates, than he has ever faced before. With Iowa’s straw poll coming in three months, Governor Pawlenty is going to have to start answering questions — the ones we’ve raised, and the ones they will — fast.

— Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor, and Rich Lowry is editor, of National Review.