Pawlenty’s straight-talking persona off to a rough start

After struggling to come up with a rationale for his presidential campaign, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) picked a theme this week: he’s going to be a straight-talking, truth-telling machine, answering tough questions with the kind of hard-hitting honesty that lesser candidates are afraid to offer. As Chris Cillizza put it, Pawlenty has “placed a big bet on boldness.”

As campaign messages go, I suppose there are worse messages. How’s the new push going? Well, Pawlenty hasn’t quite worked out the kinks yet.

Twice Pawlenty refused to answer a reporter’s question of whether he would sign or veto Ryan’s budget if it was presented to him as president.

Folks have been trying to get a straight answer from Pawlenty on this for four days. He has, so far, refused to give the House budget plan a thumbs up or thumbs down.

Remember, at his campaign kickoff, Pawlenty boasted, “Someone has to finally stand up and level with the American people.” The “someone” was apparently in reference to himself.

Well, at least Pawlenty deserves credit for going to Iowa and calling for an end to ethanol subsidies, right? That certainly sounds like it took some political courage, doesn’t it? As it turns out, Pawlenty would only go so far as to call for a very gradual phase-out of the subsidies, taking a position that’s identical to that of the ethanol lobby.

OK, but how about his willingness to take on “sacred cows” in the federal budget? That seemed encouraging, right up until Pawlenty declared yesterday that he wouldn’t lower the Pentagon’s budget at all if elected. We’re spending $700 billion a year on defense, nearly as much as every other country on the planet combined, but the former governor — the one eager to slash spending — doesn’t want to reduce that total by so much as a penny.

Also keep in mind, Pawlenty started the week lying to Rush Limbaugh about his previously moderate persona. What’s more, Wonk Room ran a fact-check piece, noting seven obvious lies Pawlenty told this week, on issues ranging from health care to the nation’s finances. Similarly , the AP ran a similar piece, highlighting several more of the candidate’s falsehoods. Glenn Kessler found Pawlenty’s condemnation of President Obama also fell short of the truth.

There’s nothing wrong with a candidate trying to become Captain Candor, sharing uncomfortable truths to earn voters’ respect. But Pawlenty is off to an awful start, offering neither candor nor facts.