Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) kicked off his book tour Thursday with a speech at the National Press Club that included a staunch defense of a potential rival for the GOP nomination — former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. 

Pawlenty slammed Palin critics, who he said made "instant judgments" on the basis of "incomplete facts" in the hours after the Tucson shooting that killed at least six people and critically wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 13 others. 

"In those early hours and early days, she was falsely accused," Pawlenty said. "People came flat out and blamed her for that incident and the facts, as we know them today, don't bear that out." 

In an interview with The New York Times earlier this week, Pawlenty took what was perceived as a swipe at Palin, telling the paper he would not have made the map she used on her Facebook page that included crosshairs over the district of Giffords and other Democratic lawmakers who voted for healthcare.  

But on Thursday, Pawlenty defended her and others on the right from those he said made snap judgments about who's to blame for the incident, something he said was similar to what he endured in Minnesota after the collapse of the Interstate 35 bridge in the summer of 2007. 

Pawlenty said that "instances when reality and facts give way" hold the potential to be "very corrosive, not just to the debate, but to democracy more broadly."

Pawlenty's book tour, which officially launches with a book signing in downtown Washington, D.C., Thursday afternoon, is a precursor for a potential presidential run, a decision Pawlenty said he will make in the coming months. He emphasized he is "seriously considering" a 2012 bid. 

The month-long book tour includes stops in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. 

Asked whether he would have made a difference in the 2008 presidential contest if his name were on the ballot as vice president rather than Palin, Pawlenty said, "I don't think it was going to matter.

"Once the economy cratered in late summer, early fall of 2008," he said. "I think whoever the Republican candidate turned out to be was likely to lose the election."