Tim Pawlenty talked to CNN the other day, and raised a line of attack I hadn’t heard him make before.

“We don’t have 20 years, we don’t have time for more status quo politicians to just come here and say, we don’t have to make any tough choices. Any doofus can go to Washington and maintain the status quo. And that’s what we’ve got in the White House and the Congress in terms of the attitude about their willingness to tackle these issues.”

It’s a strange pitch, and not just because of Pawlenty’s apparent willingness to refer to the president as a “doofus.” It’s not exactly the kind of presidential rhetoric we expect from credible national candidates.

There’s also a pinch of triangulation to the message, with Pawlenty positioning himself as above the White House and Congress.

But what I found especially interesting about this line was Pawlenty trying to label President Obama as someone who wants to “maintain the status quo.” For a while now, it was a given in Republican circles that Obama was a wild-eyed radical trying to undo the entire American experiment, turning everything we hold dear upside down. The president, we were told, was responsible for pursuing too much change, too quickly. It led conservatives to stand athwart history, yelling, “Stop.”

And yet, Pawlenty apparently doesn’t see it that way. Obama, we’re told, isn’t radical enough when it comes to change.

It seems like a tough sell — Obama can’t be accused of maintaining the status quo and bringing radical change at the same time — but it’s probably a meme worth keeping an eye on. Indeed, I guess Pawlenty, and perhaps others, will try to thread a rhetorical needle, arguing that the president should maintain the status quo on health care for those below retirement age, and pursue radical change on health care for those above retirement age.

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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.