Jan. 7, 2011— -- Although Gov. Tim Pawlenty no longer holds the executive seat in Minnesota, he is far from hanging up his political hat for good.
An evangelical Christian who has been an outspoken voice for the GOP, Pawlenty sat down exclusively with "Nightline's" Terry Moran to talk about running for president in 2012, his chief potential rival Sarah Palin and President George W. Bush's legacy.
Pawlenty denied that his upcoming book tour, which will take him to some key battleground states in December, was the kickoff for his presidential campaign. His autobiography, "Courage to Stand: An American Story," is due out on Jan. 11.
But he's made no secret of the fact that he is heavily considering a presidential bid.
He added that he felt he had a "very clear vision" for what would make a good leader of the nation in these still-rough economic times.
"I think it's precisely because of these times that I might be interested in running," he said. "I believe the country's in big trouble and we need a change in that direction."
Pawlenty cited the ongoing debate over social security and Medicare reform as a just two of many issues that need to be addressed.
"I think the real question's gonna be," he said."As you look at those people, and their life story, did their experiences and their record, did they have the fortitude to actually do it, or are they just flapping their jaws."
If Pawlenty were to run, he might find himself face-to-face with another former Republican governor, Sarah Palin, who has also hinted at a 2012 bid.
Pressed on whether the potential GOP field pulls punches when it comes to Palin for fear of alienating her strong following, Pawlenty indicated he senses some fear.
"I don't think it's fair to say people are afraid of her," he said, laughing. "It's fair to say she is somebody who's got a lot of influence and can use it for good, if she chooses to."
Pawlenty wouldn't speculate on a Pawlenty-Palin presidential battle, except to say, "I've got a long way to go to get people to even know my name, much less worrying about whether I could beat, you know, the force of nature that is Sarah Palin."
He added that he saw Palin as a "remarkable leader" and someone he considered "a friend." He added that she had what it takes to "do a good job as president."
"If she wanted to compete for the presidency, I think she has the tools to do it," he said. "You don't know what's going to happen two years from now in politics."
If both decided to run, it wouldn't be the first time Pawlenty competed with Palin for a top office. In 2008, Pawlenty was rumored to be on the short list to be the running mate for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. But at the Republican convention that year in Pawlenty's home state of Minnesota, Palin was the one who got to walk out on stage.
"I think I first saw it on the news and then [McCain] called afterwards," Pawlenty said. "It was OK. I mean, I never expected to really be considered to begin with."
Although he defended McCain's decision to choose Palin as his vice presidential running mate, Pawlenty admitted he was hoping for the spot.
"I started helping John McCain, not with the expectation of being his running mate, and then as that kinda grew, of course you get more interested," he said. "Things happen in life for a reason."
It's hard to find a politician with a kind word to say about President George W. Bush these days, but when asked for his opinion, Pawlenty defended the former president's decisions.
"I think George W. Bush will go down in history as a strong and good and great leader," Pawlenty said. "He certainly didn't do everything perfectly, but this is somebody who had the courage of his convictions. ... I liked him a lot."
Not surprisingly, Pawlenty had harsh words for President Obama. Pawlenty said he was most "frustrated" with how Obama handled health care reform, calling it the "most misguided pieces of legislation in the modern history of the country."
For that, he presented his vision for America's future.
"I am anrgy," he said. "Anger by itself isn't the solution. ... People and leaders want hopeful, optimistic [sic], and we need to show 'em there is a way out."