The Republican Party would be best served if Florida Sen. Marco Rubio becomes the nominee, said Pawlenty. "I think you get all the upside with him without any of the downside: He's strong, but he's informed; he's conservative, but electable; he doesn't just talk about the American dream, he's actually lived it; and he's a person of good character. I think he's got the total positive package."
Pawlenty said there's still time to defeat Trump. "But you've got to consolidate the field down to one candidate. And they're not willing to do that." He acknowledged that Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich were all unlikely to drop out anytime soon. "They can all make a rationale to stay in the race and they're all going to stay in the race. And that's going to defuse the non-Trump, the 65 percent of the vote, that isn't currently for Trump."
Still, Pawlenty stressed that he'd support whoever becomes the Republican nominee, even Trump. "It would be a very new adventure for all of us if Donald Trump is the nominee."
Pawlenty's worst-case scenario would be if one of the candidates were to enter the convention with a plurality of delegates but not enough to win the nomination outright. A brokered convention of backroom deals to consolidate delegates and decide the nominee would be disastrous heading into the general election, he said.
"My strong, strong advice and I'll say this as strongly as I can, hey look, compete; win it; lose it; but don't steal it; because if somebody gets in there and tries parliamentary monkeybusiness and steals away this endorsement, you'll have a massive mess on your hands," Pawlenty said.
"If you understand the modern day Republican Party, not at the donor level but at the grassroots level, these are people who are in it for their true beliefs and their cause," he said, adding they'll detest being told by party powerbrokers what to do. Such a scenario would be "disconnected from the modern-day grassroots movement."