Last week National Journal asked Democratic and Republicans “insiders” in Washington whether a government shutdown would be in their party’s best interest politically. Fifty-six percent of Democrats said yes, while 65 percent of Republicans said no.

Tim Pawlenty, the ex-governor of Minnesota and likely 2012 GOP presidential candidate, evidently is not one of those Republicans. In an interview with Think Progress over the weekend after his speech at the Tea Party Patriots summit in Phoenix, Pawlenty welcomed the idea of an imminent government shutdown. Here’s what he said:

PAWLENTY: We’ve got to get back to certain principles and responsibilities and starting with getting the budget balanced and if it takes a dramatic moment or a dramatic week or a dramatic month, those kinds of line-in-the-sand moments are what we need to get politicians back up against the wall and have them make the tough decisions.They all talk about making the tough decisions and never do.

THINK PROGRESS: So you would support a shutdown if it comes down to it?

 PAWLENTY: If it came down to it and it was between that and not getting the budget headed in the right direction, that’s an option I think Republicans have to consider.

 

On Friday, House Republicans unveiled a proposal to temporarily fund the federal government through March 18 by slashing $4 billion over a two-week period, through the elimination of earmarks and cuts to programs that President Obama himself targeted in his own budget. Democrats tentatively gave their ok to the plan. Despite the National Journal poll, the Obama House desperately wants to avoid a shutdown, which it believes could harm the economy and hurt the president’s fragile poll numbers.

But the Tea Party is having none of it. Reported Jon Ward from the summit in Phoenix (via Mike Allen’s Playbook):

When [Rep. Joe Barton, R-Tex.] told the crowd that the [party’s proposed] cuts…were “the largest spending cuts in the history of America”…the audience erupted in anger. “It’s not enough,” one person yelled as Barton was engulfed in a chorus of boos mixed in with hundreds in the crowd yelling, “More, more, more!’ ”

We’re witnessing a split between pragmatists in the GOP who believe the party now has a responsibility to govern and Tea Party hardliners who still want to be the party of no. Expect much of the GOP presidential field, including Pawlenty, to side with the latter camp as they court primary voters in places like Iowa and New Hampshire.

Despite these internal divisions, Republicans are still winning the budget battle, both substantively and rhetorically. Though they hold only one house of Congress, House Republicans act like they’re in control of the entire government, with little pushback from the White House or Senate Democrats. Both parties now endorse the idea that spending cuts are the best cure for our ailing economy, even though there is no evidence that is the case. “The problem isn’t that we’re spending too much but that, in an effort to cut deficits, we—particularly state and local governments—are spending too little,” Ezra Klein wrote after examining the latest GDP report. Yet you never hear that message from the Obama White House, even though poll after poll shows that the public believes the unemployment rate is a far more pressing problem than the deficit.

The budget fight, as I’ve written before, presents a perfect opportunity for Democrats to lay out an alternative narrative on the economy and aggressively challenge the GOP’s brand of trickle-down economics. Here’s one example of how the political debate about the economy and the deficit has become absurdly skewed—in 2010, financial firms on Wall Street, including those bailed out by Uncle Sam, awarded $20.8 billion in bonuses. Yet for some reason public employees, most of whom I think it’s fair to assume are not millionaires by any stretch of the imagination, have become public enemy number one.

—Ari Berman is the author of Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics.

 
Like this Blog Post? Read it on the Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.