Morning Shows Bombard Pawlenty With Attacks from a Liberal 'Republican,' Demand Higher Taxes

All three morning shows on Monday bombarded Tim Pawlenty with a variety of liberal complaints and demands. ABC and NBC singled out an Obama-supporting "Republican" who slammed the presidential candidate's fiscal management of Minnesota. CBS repeatedly lobbied Pawlenty to raise taxes.

Good Morning America's George Stephanopoulos identified ex-Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson as "one of your Republican predecessors." He quoted Carlson as saying, "I don't think any governor has left behind a worse financial mess than Pawlenty has." Stephanopoulos made no mention of the fact that Carlson endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 or that he was officially expelled from the Minnesota GOP in December of 2010.

On NBC's Today, Matt Lauer highlighted the same statement and described Carlson simply as "a former Republican Governor of the State of Minnesota." He challenged, "This is a Republican saying that. How do you respond?"

Pawlenty described Carlson's affinity for Democrats and show back, "So I don't think he's an actual neutral or honest broker of anything."

This isn't the first time the Today show forced Pawlenty to respond to other liberal governors. On February 10, 2011, co-host Meredith Vieira referenced Pawlenty's Democratic successor, Mark Dayton: "Last night in his State of the State Address, he said that he was left with a horrendous fiscal mess and state agencies poorly managed. So what makes you better-equipped to run the nation's economy, if you left your own house in such disarray?"

On Monday's Today, Lauer managed to get in a dig about how boring Pawlenty supposedly is. He derided, "...People often look at you and they say is there enough charisma there for Tim Pawlenty to beat Barack Obama? What's your answer to that?"

Stephanopoulos pushed the Republican, indicating that the killing of Osama bin Laden has made Obama a successful foreign policy president: "In the wake of the successful attack on Osama bin Laden, you care to extend and revise those remarks?"

CBS's Early Show skipped the Arne Carlson question, but co-host Erica Hill instead lobbied for more taxes, insisting, "What about raising taxes?...At some point, do you have to look at raising taxes, and do people have to pay more for what's needed in this country?"

Continuing to lecture Pawlenty, she followed-up, "But if you lower taxes too much on businesses, you- of course, you need something coming in, because there is this wide deficit, which we talk so much about. You need revenue."

A transcript of the Today interview, which aired at 7:18am EDT, follows:

MATT LAUER: Now to presidential politics. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is throwing his hat into the ring for the 2012 GOP nomination. He's in Des Moines, Iowa, where he will make a formal announcement today. Governor Pawlenty, good morning.

TIM PAWLENTY: Good morning to you, Matt.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Joining the Race; Tim Pawlenty Announces 2012 GOP Presidential Run]

LAUER: Nice to have you as part of the party. And let me ask the simplest question, why? Why do you want to be president?

PAWLENTY: Well, I want to be president because America is in big trouble. Our finances are out of control. The debt and deficit are not being tackled by the current president. I've got experience in Minnesota as governor in tackling spending. I balanced budgets. I got an 'A' rating from the Cato Institute, one of only four governors in the country to do it. The other three aren't running for president, by the way, Matt. But our country needs new leadership and we've got to get this economy moving again. President Obama unfortunately doesn't have the courage to look the American people in the eye and tell them the tough truth of things that we're going to need to do to get our spending under control. I'll do that.

LAUER: I was going to wait until a little later in the interview to bring this up, but since you talk about balancing budgets and your record in Minnesota, let me ask you about this. A former Republican Governor of the State of Minnesota, Arne Carlson, had this to say about your time there and your fiscal responsibility. Quote, 'I don't think any governor has left behind a worse financial mess than he has.' [Source: Time magazine, May 23] This is a Republican saying that. How do you respond?

PAWLENTY: Well, actually Arne Carlson had become an Obama supporter and a John Kerry supporter and said he had left the Republican Party some years ago. So I don't think he's an actual neutral or honest broker of anything. And it's not accurate. Every time during my time as governor - eight years, four budget cycles, two years each - I balanced the budget every time. And, in fact, the last one ends this summer and it's still going to end in the black. So they're talking about a projected deficit down the road that's based on a lot of big spending increases that I don't support and wouldn't have allowed had I continued on as governor.

LAUER: Let me ask you about money. It's going to take a lot of money to run for president, Governor, and especially when you're going up against someone like Mitt Romney, who can raise a lot of money and has a lot of money. Some of the thinking was that a lot of the donors in this race might have been sitting on the sidelines waiting to hear what Mitch Daniels was going to do. He's announced he will not run. I know you've - according to some reports - reached out to some of those donors. What kind of response are you getting?

PAWLENTY: Well, the response has been good. We're not going to be the money champion in the race to start with. Though my friend Mitt Romney will be the front-runner in that regard. But we're going to have enough money to run a competitive and successful campaign. It may not be the BMW or the Mercedes campaign but it'll be a good solid Buick and maybe even trending towards a Cadillac and that'll be enough for us to be competitive and win.

LAUER: In the early polls you're in the single digits. It looks like Mitt Romney, in most polls right now, seems to be the front-runner. So let me ask you a direct head-to-head question. Why would you be a better nominee than Mitt Romney?

PAWLENTY: Well, I don't criticize or draw contrasts to other people. I can just tell you what my strengths are. And my strengths are this: When it comes to getting this federal government spending and deficit and debt under control, I've got a record in Minnesota of actually doing that. Like I said, there's only four governors in the country that got that 'A' grade rating from Cato Institute. I did. I cut taxes, I did market-based, instead of government-based health care reform, performance pay for teachers, public employee pension reform. And that's why these outside groups are saying this is one of the best, if not the best, conservative record in the country. And I'm proud of the record and that's one of the strengths I bring to it.

And I also, Matt, have got a background that I think a lot of American will like. My - I grew up in a blue collar town. My dad was a truck driver for much of his life. My mom was a home maker. And so I think those kinds of life stories connect with people, not just in terms of policy positions but at a heart and gut level as well.

LAUER: And just in the ten seconds I have left, Governor, people often look at you and they say is there enough charisma there for Tim Pawlenty to beat Barack Obama? What's your answer to that?

PAWLENTY: Well, I'm not running for entertainer-in-chief. These are serious times and they need serious people with serious solutions. So if you're looking for the loudest or a comedian in the race, vote for somebody else. But I'll bring the solutions forward that will actually fix the country.

LAUER: Former Governor Tim Pawlenty, congratulations on the announcement. Good luck. Come see us in the studio, please.

PAWLENTY: I'll do it, Matt. thank you.

- Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.