A Big-Government Running Mate for McCain?

The Washington rumor mill has Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty as the leading candidate to be John McCain’s running mate. If so, that would be a clear slap in the face to small-government conservatives.

Pawlenty, who reportedly coined the term “Sam’s Club conservative” to describe his political philosophy, has been an economic populist and big-spender generally. Among other things, he:

  • Supported government subsidized health care for all children as the first step toward universal health insurance, and opposed President Bush’s veto of a Democratic bill that would have expanded the State Children’s Health Insurance program (SCHIP) to families earning as much as $83,000 per year;
  • Supports Massachusetts-style health care reform, including a “health care exchange” and an individual mandate;
  • Has called for banning all prescription drug advertizing, and seeks government imposed price controls for drugs offered through Medicare;
  • Proposed a $4000 per child preschool program for low-income children;
  • Pushed a statewide smoking ban smoking ban in workplaces, restaurants and bars;
  • Increased the state’s minimum wage;
  • Imposed some of the most aggressive and expensive renewable energy mandates in the country;
  • Was an ardent supporter of the farm bill;
  • Received only a “C” ranking on Cato’s 2006 Governor’s Report Card, finishing below such Democrats as Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and tied with Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.

It was the Republicans’ big-spending, big-government ways that helped ensure their defeat in the 2006 midterm elections. Suburbanites, independents, and others who were fed up not just with the war and corruption, but also with the Republican drift toward big-government who stayed home, or even voted Democratic, on election day 2006. That night, more than 65 percent of voters told a pollster they believed that “The Republicans used to be the party of economic growth, fiscal discipline, and limited government, but in recent years, too many Republicans in Washington have become just like the big spenders they used to oppose.”

John McCain cannot hope to win this fall without the support of economic and small government conservatives. Many are attracted to what appears to be McCain’s genuine fiscal conservatism. But many others are suspicious of McCain’s populist, big-government tendencies on issues from energy and the environment to civil liberties, the war and campaign finance. McCain needs to reach out to Reagan/Goldwater small-government conservatives. Vice President Pawlenty would be sending a very different signal.