WASHINGTON -- Speaking before the National Press Club on Thursday, in what was yet another tease at a forthcoming presidential run, Gov. Tim Pawlenty defended fellow GOPer Sarah Palin against critics whom he deemed highbrow elitists.
The Minnesota Republican, in a late stage of his book tour, had caused a mild sensation days before when he dared to cast doubt on Palin's decision to use crosshairs to label the House races she was targeting in 2010. But he made up for it by implying that those who criticized the former Alaska governor were either overly-privileged or condescending.
"There is also, I think, a double standard at play here because if you've had different kinds of experiences ... you went to say a certain more prominent school in a different part of the country, or you were the law review editor of some journal or something, then all of the sudden that is more valuable in the discussion than if you are in a place like Alaska or Minnesota because there's a little bit of a sense that maybe that's not quite up to our standards in some people's eyes. I don't buy that. I don't agree with that."
The line about the law review editor was, undoubtedly, directed at President Barack Obama, whom Pawlenty also criticized for having less experience when he entered the White House than Palin had when she was chosen as a vice presidential candidate. But the contrast could also have been meant for Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who seems all but certain to enter the presidential ring.
Pawlenty's appeal has always been based on the notion that he was a common man in a Republican Party filled with the detached or the elites. "Sam's Club" conservatism was his brand, and he rode it first to the governor's office and then to national prominence. It was, in turn, to serve as the basis of a run for the presidency in 2012, for which Romney would be the ideal foil.
But somewhere along the way, the field of self-proclaimed humble conservatives grew a bit crowded. And instead of being able to claim it as his defining characteristic, Pawlenty is now -- publicly -- sharing it with Palin.