Pawlenty defended Romney's record on abortion, his tax returns and healthcare, arguing that Romney had been consistently conservative on all points.

"I don't see what all the fuss is about," he said about Romney's back and forth on whether he would release his tax returns.

Pawlenty also brushed off comments that Romney has had a bad week — and predicted a win in Florida for the governor.

"He was at or near the top of the heap in Iowa, he won New Hampshire, he's in a position to do very well in South Carolina, he's likely to win Florida. That's a historic success, it's by no measure a failure or discouragement," he said. "Mitt Romney's the front-runner, he's got momentum, I think he's going to be a great nominee, he's going to be a great president. And are there going to be on any given news cycle, day or week, some ups and downs? Of course. But to look at what's just happened over the last month with Gov. Romney's campaign and describe it as anything other than a stunning success just isn't fair."

He also said that while Romney had previously embraced concepts that were included in President Obama's health insurance reforms, he was no different from the other candidates on that count, pointing to Gingrich's embrace of the individual mandate and mentioning Santorum without pointing to a specific area where he and Obama had agreed on a policy.

—This post was updated at 8:10 a.m. on Jan. 20.