TAMPA, Fla. — Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is emerging as an attractive secretary of state option in a Romney administration for conservatives who believe in an assertive American foreign policy.
Pawlenty has displayed a strong interest in foreign policy topics both while he was governor of Minnesota and after. And while people close to Pawlenty say that the governor is not campaigning for the post, he certainly wouldn’t turn it down if offered it.
Phil Musser, a former adviser to Pawlenty, told TheDC his old boss “is not angling for anything.”
Another former adviser to Pawlenty, who preferred not to be identified, concurred, saying Pawlenty was too modest and loyal to campaign for the position.
But, he added, Pawlenty “is deeply knowledgeable on foreign policy and that kind of Cabinet post would play to his strengths.”
While foreign policy was not a key focus of last week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa — Mitt Romney even failed to mention the Afghan war in his speech accepting the Republican nomination — Pawlenty participated in an extensive public foreign policy discussion moderated by Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and sponsored by the Foreign Policy Initiative.
Asked about Pawlenty’s prospects for the secretary of state post, Foreign Policy Initiative executive director Jamie Fly said he would make a fine choice.
“When he was a candidate, he laid out a thoughtful vision on national security and foreign policy,” Fly told The Daily Caller.
“Unbeknownst to many people, he developed extensive foreign policy experience as Governor and given his close relationship with Gov. Romney, he’d be an effective envoy for the administration and a great representative of the American people abroad.”
Pawlenty traveled extensively overseas while governor of Minnesota, leading trade missions to Canada, Poland, the Czech Republic, China, India, Israel, Brazil, Chile and Japan.
He has also visited American troops in Iraq five times, in Afghanistan three times and in the Balkans on multiple occasions. After leaving the governor’s mansion in 2011, he led a delegation from the International Republican Institute to observe Tunisia’s elections.
During his unsuccessful GOP presidential campaign, Pawlenty emerged as the favorite among foreign policy conservatives who believe in a robust American role in the world. He was the first GOP candidate to give a major foreign policy address during the campaign, a 2011 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations.
At the Foreign Policy Initiative’s Tampa forum, a questioner raised the prospect of Pawlenty as secretary of state before asking his question. After the event, when TheDC asked Pawlenty if he was seeking the top diplomatic role in a Romney administration, he deflected the question.
“I don’t know what my future holds,” he said. “I’m just trying to get Mitt Romney elected president.”
But Bill Kristol, who also serves on the board of the Foreign Policy Initiative, lent his support to the idea.
“I’m already on the record of endorsing [independent Connecticut Sen. Joe] Lieberman,” he told TheDC, laughing. “I’m for Lieberman or Pawlenty. That probably dooms both of them.”
While Pawlenty hasn’t spent his career primarily focused on foreign policy concerns, the post is often given to a major political figure, not necessarily to someone who spent a lifetime in the foreign policy arena.
“Governor Pawlenty proved in his Primary campaign that he could master foreign policy issues,” Rick Grenell, a former spokesman for the American delegation to the United Nations who worked briefly as a Romney campaign spokesman on national security issues, told TheDC.
“He was knowledgeable and aggressive on a variety of national security matters despite some saying it wouldn’t be his strength. Modern day presidential campaigns are proving to be great testing grounds for Cabinet positions — just ask the current secretary of state.”
Grenell added in a separate interview with TheDC that it was only natural for Pawlenty to want to lead the State Department after Romney passed him over for the vice presidential nod, since it is the next most prestigious post.
Other names commonly floated include people like Lieberman, but also former Deputy Secretary of State and former World Bank President Bob Zoellick, who is viewed with skepticism by foreign policy hawks. Politico recently suggested Zoellick is the most likely candidate for the job.
“I had lunch with Zoellick this week,” Kristol told TheDC after the Tampa event. “He’d be good elsewhere.”