Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty on the campaign to get his old job back

Former Governor Tim Pawlenty and Republican Lt. Governor Michelle Fischbach
Former Governor Tim Pawlenty and Republican Lt. Governor Michelle Fischbach take questions during a press conference inside the State Office Building in St. Paul, Minn. on Thursday, May 31, 2018.
Evan Frost | MPR News

With just two months to go until the August 14th state primary, Minnesota's gubernatorial candidates are burning shoe rubber campaigning around the state.

One person who's familiar with the drill is former two-term Republican governor Tim Pawlenty. He's making a bid to get his old job back, but is doing it without the backing of his party, after skipping this year's GOP convention.

MPR News host Cathy Wurzer checked in with Pawlenty as he prepared to spend the day campaigning in Mankato and Faribault.

Comments have been edited for clarity and concision.

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Now, I know you've seen the South Carolina primary results this morning that saw the defeat of Mark Sanford yesterday. He was a Trump opponent, and you called the president prior to the election 'uninformed,' 'unfit' and 'unhinged.' Do you worry the president, who's coming to Duluth next week, will take the opportunity to rip into you and instead throw his support to Jeff Johnson?

Well, that's always a possibility. I hope and don't believe he'll do that. I think he will stay out of this until after the primary, but you never know. And those comments that I made were after the TMZ Hollywood tapes. I was concerned on my own behalf and on behalf of my daughters and my wife and many others that shared that concern about some of the language that he used relative to women. And so I spoke strongly about that.

Since then, I of course admire and appreciate and respect a lot of what he's done on policy, in terms of his role as president and his time as president. But like a lot of Republicans, and I think many other Minnesotans, I'm concerned sometimes about his behavior and his language. But in terms of his policy priorities and areas of focus, I agree with many of them, most of them.

Will you be in Duluth next week for his visit?

Well, we're talking to some folks about the format of that and what the roles and expectations for that event are, so that's all to be determined.

You know, many Republicans who were at the state convention did say they thought you should have shown up, even though you weren't seeking the endorsement. So I'm curious, what's your message to grassroots activists, those folks who are going to turn out in this primary?

Well, the message is we want more people to participate at a grassroots level in picking their candidate. At the peak of the voting at the Republican convention in Duluth there were eight or nine hundred votes cast for the endorsed candidate, and in the primary there will be a couple hundred thousand that will vote, Cathy. So this is a more open process, it's more user-friendly and convenient. And the convention process, if you work nights or have a lot of other responsibilities or obligations, it's difficult to participate. So this is actually — by running in a primary it not only follows the legal way that you get on a ballot to represent your party, it opens it up to more grassroots activists, not fewer, and I think that's an important and helpful step.

You mentioned you're not too keen on President Trump's personal issues but you do support some of his policies. You're traveling to Mankato and Faribault today to talk to farmers and as you know, soybean and hog farmers especially are concerned about the president's tariffs. What's your message to them?

My message to them is it is not in America's best interest to get in a trade war, particularly over products and services that relate to agriculture. And of course, Minnesota farmers, including our pork producers and many others as well, could be impacted by that. So I don't like the possibility of a trade war triggered by tariffs, and I think the president in that regard is trying to get a better deal, which is a good goal. But you don't want to go so far with some of these threats that you trigger retaliation, and that's where this appears to be headed at the moment. I'm hoping that he can still resolve these disputes with Canada and Mexico and others without the need for tariffs.

I do make an exception for certain things like steel, because there's a national security component to domestic steel production and we need to maintain that capacity.

OK. So it sounds like that potential stance could be helpful in, say the Eighth District.

Well, it's also historically grounded. You can't have a robust and rigorous and aggressive national security posture without domestic production capacity. And one key part of that is steel, and if you outsource all of that or allow it to be outsourced to other countries, you put yourself at grave risk. So there's a historical precedent for making sure we have a robust and reliable and stable domestic steel capacity.

Alright. Governor Pawlenty, thank you for your time this morning.

OK, thank you.