Tim Pawlenty explained Tuesday morning that he refused to attack Mitt Romney on healthcare at the debate Monday evening because the race was about beating President Obama, not beating up on other Republicans.
But, he said, doing that required distinguishing one’s record from the president’s, the implication being that Romney would have trouble doing that when it came to healthcare.
On Sunday, Pawlenty coined the term ‘ObamneyCare,’ and many expected that he would follow up on that attack during the debate. But Pawlenty declined to directly attack Romney on healthcare, even when pushed, drawing criticism that he was backing down from his earlier remarks. Pawlenty said that was not the case.
“I said essentially the same thing I did in that clip as I did on Sunday morning, which is President Obama said he used the Massachusetts plan as a blueprint, that’s why I dubbed it ObamneyCare, and I said the same thing last night,” Pawlenty said on Fox and Friends.
“I don’t understand what the kerfuffle’s about,” he added. “I said essentially the same thing in both appearances.”
Despite his refusal to outright attack Romney, he implied that the former Massachusetts governor could have problems.
“When you are running against the president of the United States, you’re going to have to distinguish yourself, your plans and your ideas. I’m going to be able to do that because I took a different direction in Minnesota. The president is saying his plan is the same as the Massachusetts plan,” Pawlenty said, implying that Romney would not be able to adequately distinguish himself from the sitting president.
Pawlenty made similar remarks Tuesday morning on CNN and CBS.
“The debate was focused primarily on Barack Obama and his failure as a president,” Pawlenty said on CNN. “…There’s going to be some differences between republican candidates, but the focus last night was on Barack Obama and I did, again, highlight that President Obama himself is the one who said that ObamaCare was designed after the Massachusetts heath care plan.”
In the spin room following the debate, Pawlenty campaign manager Nick Ayers said that moderator John King was just trying to drum up controversy by bringing up the point of “ObamneyCare.”
“I recognize John King and CNN for ratings purposes wanted a spat to report on,” he said. “The fact of the matter is Gov. Pawlenty said, continued to say tonight, that RomneyCare was the blueprint for ObamaCare. He said that in his initial answer and John wanted to hear the word ObamneyCare so Gov. Pawlenty on the second or third answer gave it to him.”
Responding to the criticism that given his refusal to attack Romney in close quarters, he was simply “too vanilla” to be president, Pawlenty turned the attack into a merit.
“Vanilla is the best selling ice cream in the country for a reason,” Pawlenty said. “People know what they’re gonna get, and they like it. It’s steady, it’s stable, it’s seasoned.”