A few observations:
-Pawlenty said his name ID among primary voters has soared 25 percentage points in one year, and touted strong fundraising for his PAC.
-Challenged on his one-time support for Cap & Trade, Pawlenty admitted error: "I flirted with Cap & Trade, but decided it was a bad idea and denounced it. Have I changed my position on it? Yes. I'm not going to be cute about it, or hem and haw...I have concluded that it will wreck the economy." He called his erstwhile support a "clunker" of a position, but affirmed that his record as a state legislator and Governor was "solidly, reliably conservative."
-When asked about a perceived charisma deficit, Pawlenty laughed it off. He challenged the group to name another likely candidate (aside from Sarah Palin, whom he conceded has unrivaled personal cache -- which he termed "celebrity") whose personality and dynamism is head-turning. More than anything else, it came across as an unintentional indictment of the overall field.
-Pawlenty discussed his social conservatism, touting pro-life convictions and support for traditional marriage. He reasserted his stance in favor of reinstating the military's recently repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which he conceded might be a complicated (or even untenable) goal if repeal is fully implemented by the time he would take office.
-He hammered Obamacare as one of the worst pieces of legislation in modern American history, calling it unconstititional and unwise. Given the opportunity to hit Mitt Romney for the controversial healthcare policy he implemented in Massachusetts, Pawlenty demurred, preferring to honor Reagan's eleventh commandment ("Thou Shalt Not Attack a Fellow Republican"). He said he's "trying his best" to stick to that approach "for now."
-The former governor said he has unusually broad foreign policy chops for a governor, citing his many overseas trips and missions, including five visits to Iraq, and three to Afghanistan. He credited President Obama for carrying out his predecessor's successful Iraq policy and draw-down ("so far, so good"), but criticized Obama for linking a troop surge to a withdrawal date in Afghanistan. Pawlenty suggested the president was playing politics with his war policy. He was also critical of the current administration's approach to handling the crisis in Egypt. He said the White House "didn't see it coming, didn't see the situation clearly, and maybe still don't."
Pawlenty's camp released a few excerpts from the Governor's upcoming CPAC speech:
Just because we followed Greece into democracy, does not mean we need to follow them into bankruptcy.
Of course, the government spenders come with excuses. ... I know something about the spenders -- and I know something about difficult. I'm from the state of McCarthy, Mondale, Humphrey, Wellstone, and now -- United States Senator Al Franken.
But we cut government in Minnesota, and if we can do it there, we can do it anywhere. ...
I drew a line in the sand and said, "Absolutely not”. We're going to live within our means just like families, just like businesses, just like everybody else."It wasn’t easy. I set a record for vetoes in my State. Vetoed billions of dollars of tax and spending increases. Had the first government shutdown in Minnesota’s history. Took one of the longest transit strikes in the country’s history to get public employee benefits under control. And, in the last budget period, I cut spending in real terms for the first time in the history of my state.
UPDATE: Ed has video of a portion of the discussion up at Hot Air.