pawlenty.jpgJust in case you thought conservatives might be warming up to climate action and clean energy with the impending nomination of John McCain, uber-conservative columnist Bob Novak explains otherwise in a column titled “How Not to Run for Vice President.”

As a nonconservative, I know I can’t do justice to Novak’s “logic” by summarizing it, and I suspect many readers would think I was taking his argument out of context, since it seems so … well … judge for yourself. I’ll just reprint most of it:

Minnesota’s Republican governor, Tim Pawlenty, carefully prepared his plan for controlling greenhouse gas emissions to present it at the annual winter meeting of governors in Washington. That effort coincided with Pawlenty’s fast-rising prospects to become Sen. John McCain’s choice for vice president. But behind closed doors, governors from energy-producing states complained so vigorously that Pawlenty’s proposal was buried.

Pawlenty’s position as chairman of the National Governors Association may prove to be his undoing. While party insiders sing his praises as ideal to be McCain’s running mate, leading conservative Republican governors have been less than pleased with him. Pawlenty has collaborated with the association’s Democratic vice chairman, Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, on a fat economic stimulus package as well as the energy proposal.

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Hours after Pawlenty’s energy plan was derailed, McCain himself was privately urged by GOP governors not to appear to be anti-coal or anti-oil. The upshot of a busy Saturday at the J.W. Marriott Hotel downtown was that Pawlenty came across as somebody considerably different from what McCain needs to calm conservatives. He left the nation’s capital as a less attractive vice presidential possibility than he was when he arrived.

And they say progressives have litmus tests! Apparently if you support strong government policies to save the next 50 generations from a ruined climate, that’s a nonstarter. No doubt that’s why McCain continues to soft-pedal his climate rhetoric, repeatedly (and absurdly) claiming a cap-and-trade system is not a “mandate” — a word as verboten for conservatives as “evolution.” To the rest of the world, Pawlenty is a rock-solid conservative in a key swing state:

Pawlenty, 47, has long been talked about as a good fit for the 71-year-old McCain. He is the most conservative Minnesota governor since Theodore “Tightwad Ted” Christianson in the 1920s. Elected to two terms (albeit narrowly) in a slightly blue state, Pawlenty is seen by supporters as a plus for McCain in the Democratic Upper Midwest if added to the ticket.

He gets high grades from conservative fanciers of Republican horse flesh, such as Karl Rove, Ken Mehlman and Pawlenty’s fellow Minnesotan, Vin Weber. Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist approves of Pawlenty’s record, save for one hike in cigarette taxes.

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But he has committed two apparently unpardonable conservative sins — he believes humans are changing the climate, and he won’t shill for coal and oil interests:

As co-chairman of the association’s energy committee (with Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who gave the Democratic response to President Bush’s State of the Union address this year), Pawlenty proposed state goals for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. But at a “governors-only” session that opened the meeting on Saturday, Pawlenty encountered adamant opposition. Barbour led the way for governors from energy-producing states, including Republican Rick Perry of Texas and Democrat Steve Beshear of Kentucky. The issue of greenhouse gases was “set aside,” Pawlenty told me, “because we realized there was no consensus.”

[“No consensus.” Irony can be so ironic.]

McCain, who has co-sponsored a global warming bill with his friend and supporter Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), got more of the same over dinner with Republican governors that night. They made clear that energy was a major issue and that they hoped McCain would be sensitive to energy producers. By all accounts, the prospective presidential nominee was receptive.

[McCain is certainly receptive.]

That same day, the Wall Street Journal ran a column by Minneapolis-St. Paul talk show host Jason Lewis critiquing Pawlenty’s record — including renewable energy mandates — as too liberal for him to be McCain’s vice president. “If you look at my record as a whole,” Pawlenty told me Sunday, “I would be astonished if I was not considered conservative.” As for Lewis’s remarks, “He doesn’t think I’m conservative because I’m a proponent of clean energy [!!], and, from my standpoint, we’ve got a national security issue.”

[The Lewis column is here: He frets that “Pawlenty imposed some of the most aggressive renewable energy mandates in the country,” and that Pawlenty told the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group (pinch me, I must be dreaming): “It looks like we should have listened to President Carter. He called us to action, and we should have listened … Climate change is real. Human behavior is partly and may be a lot responsible. Those who don’t think so are simply not right. We should not spend time on voices that say it’s not real.” For conservatives, praising Carter is a firing squad offsense.]

“We loved Ronald Reagan, but he made some compromises along the way,” Pawlenty said, adding, “We don’t have a big enough party to be throwing people overboard.” Presumably, that also means coal and oil interests.

No, you just can’t make this stuff up — or at least I can’t.

This post was created for, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.