Speaking to a Tea Party rally in Boston on Friday, Tim Pawlenty struck a tough, populist tone, thanking the crowd for being “modern day Paul Reveres,” and telling them it was time to take back the government from politicians he said have overreached.
“We are here to tell them this message,” Pawlenty said to a crowd that held dozens of Gadsden flags and signs calling for a smaller government. “Don’t tread on me.”
Pawlenty was the keynote speaker at the event, the third annual tax day rally organized by the Greater Boston Tea Party, which last year boasted an appearance by Sarah Palin. But despite being the closing speaker — and a semi-declared presidential candidate — few in the crowd seemed to know much about Pawlenty before he delivered his speech.
When asked if he was in attendance to see Pawlenty, one man paused for a few seconds, and then asked, “Who?” Others said that while they knew who the former Minnesota governor was, they didn’t know much about his record, or what separated him from the other candidates. Christen Varley, president of the Greater Boston Tea Party, said that she was “familiar and admiring” of Pawlenty, but that she too needed to hear more about him before she could decide if he was the right candidate for her.
Peter Hummond, who attended the rally in a revolutionary-era outfit, said he knew “very little” about Pawlenty.
“I’d like to know where he stands on the issues,” Hammond said. “I’m here today to listen to his speech and hopefully find that out.”
Bill Codi, who held a Gadsden flag and carried a fife, expressed a similar sentiment.
“I don’t really know much about him, but I’m interested to find out,” he said.
“The candidates aren’t really out — it’s not clear who’s running and who’s not running, so I haven’t taken a long look at them,” he added.
Unknown or not, Pawlenty earned huge applause when he took the stage and, in an uncharacteristically energizing speech, rallied the crowd around the idea of taking back the country. Deriding what he described as a government run amok with wasteful spending, Pawlenty touted his conservative credentials and fiscal fortitude from his two-term stint as governor of Minnesota. In one instance, he rifled through a list of accomplishments, saying he’d balanced budgets, reformed pensions, and vetoed wasteful bills, to which one woman in the crowd exclaimed, “Nice!”
Citing failed New York gubernatorial candiate and Internet sensation (and fellow presidential candidate) Jimmy McMillan’s Rent is 2 Damn High Party, Pawlenty condensed his view of the government into a single line.
“The message for us should be this,” he said. “The government is too damn big.”
Appearing in the home state of a fellow competitor for the Republican presidential nod, Mitt Romney, Pawlenty worked the crowd, slowing his cadence several times to allow the crowd time to join him in finishing off some well-worn maxims.
“I’m going to slow this down in case there are any Democrats watching. We can’t spend,” he said, hesitating for a second, “more than we take in,” the crowd finished in unison with him.
Pawlenty’s harshest rhetoric was aimed at the man he hopes to challenge in next year’s presidential race, President Obama. He repeatedly knocked Obama’s stewardship of the nation, saying the commander in chief had broken campaign promises and plunged the country deeper into debt.
“I’m not one to question Obama’s birth certificate,” he said. “But sometimes when I see his policies I wonder what planet he’s from.”
Then, channeling another potential rival for the GOP party nomination, Donald Trump, Pawlenty said he wanted the crowd’s support to help him tell Obama, “You’re fired.”
The rally got off to a rocky start when dozens of counter-demonstrators surged toward the podium, waving pro-union flags and drowning out the event’s speakers with derisive chants about Republicans and the Tea Party. “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, tea party bigots, go away,” went one chant. There were no physical altercations, though police did eventually step in to separate the two factions amid some loud, combative taunting.