Tim Pawlenty presented a laughable economic plan last week, vowing to cut taxes by trillions, which will magically produce robust growth, and which in turn will help the tax cuts pay for themselves.

With this in mind, Dave Weigel asked Pawlenty a good question at a New Hampshire campaign stop today: “After the Bush tax cuts we got slightly less revenue, we got a larger debt. You’re talking about tax cuts as part of a larger plan that will grow the economy, reduce the deficit over the long term. Why would that work when the Bush tax cuts didn’t?”

“Keep in mind,” said Pawlenty, “our plan does not just cut taxes. It cuts spending. Big time…. But I think [the Bush-era tax rates] didn’t fully serve their intended purposes, because at the same time, past Congresses and administrations also raised spending. That’s not what we’re proposing. We’re not proposing to cut taxes and raise spending. We’re proposing to cut taxes and cut spending, and if you do that we’re going to grow jobs by shrinking government. We’re going to grow the private sector by shrinking government.”

The interesting thing about this line — a tack we’re likely to hear a lot from all Republicans over the next year and a half — is that it’s the new right-wing “third way.”

We’ve come to think of the political divide, at least when it comes to the larger fight over expenditures and revenue, as a fight between the Republican and Democratic visions. Pawlenty and others are going to argue that both parties have adopted a liberal economic philosophy, which the GOP now intends to break.

Looking back at the Bush/Cheney era, most of which was dominated by Republican majorities in Congress, it didn’t occur to us to think, “Wow, it’s remarkable how the GOP has embraced economic liberalism!” But that’s what Pawlenty and other Republicans are going to ask voters to believe — the GOP of the Bush era spent too much, taxed too much, and raised the deficit too much.

Come to think of it, they’re likely to say the same thing about the Reagan era, too, since government grew in the ’80s; the deficit tripled; and tax rates were even higher then than now.

In other words, Pawlenty and other Republicans want voters to believe this is an entirely new GOP — one that will slash taxes and slash spending, taking money out of the economy, deliberately making things much harder on working families, and effectively embracing an economic model unlike anything Americans have seen in modern economic times. The pitch boils down to this: Republicans intend to be much more right-wing than George W. Bush.

Is this really what the American mainstream wants?

Steve Benen

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.