Jon Huntsman supported an individual health care mandate. Mitt Romney not only supported a mandate, he passed a mandate law and stands by it. Newt Gingrich at least used to support a mandate policy, and defended it two weeks ago on national television.

And Tim Pawlenty appears ready to join the same club.

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said in a 2006 speech that mandated health insurance was a “potentially helpful” — but incomplete — solution to the problem of the uninsured.

Pawlenty described a Massachusetts-style mandate in his speech as “a worthy goal and one that we’re intrigued by and I think at least open to,” but suggested that the central health care problem was not forcing people to buy insurance but helping them afford it.

Wait, you mean Pawlenty saw radical government activism and a freedom-killing agenda as a “worthy goal” that he was “open to”? Well, yes.

At a certain level, none of this is surprising at all. As I may have mentioned once or twice, this was a Republican idea in the first place. Nixon embraced it in the 1970s, and George H.W. Bush supported the idea in the 1980s. When Dole endorsed the mandate in 1994, it was in keeping with the party’s prevailing attitudes at the time. Romney embraced the mandate as governor and it was largely ignored during the ’08 campaign, since it was in keeping with the GOP mainstream.

In recent years, the mandate has also been embraced by the likes of John McCain, Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Bob Bennett, Tommy Thompson, Lamar Alexander, Lindsey Graham, John Thune, Scott Brown, and Judd Gregg, among many others. Indeed, several of them not only endorsed the policy, they literally co-sponsored legislation that included a mandate.

So hearing that Pawlenty was on board with a health care idea that most of his party has supported for decades isn’t exactly scandalous.

There are, however, a couple of angles to keep an eye on. The first is that Republicans now consider the idea poisonous because President Obama agrees with it, so Pawlenty will probably disavow his own remarks, the way he’s distanced himself from the rest of his record.

The second is the likely emergence of a sin hierarchy in GOP circles — Pawlenty was open to a mandate (bad), Huntsman pushed for one but failed (worse), Romney actually created one (worst).

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.