Look, Mitch Daniels isn't perfect. But he's more than good enough. He's more socially conservative than I am (not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to getting elected) and he's not exactly a bundle of charisma. But his accomplishments as Indiana's governor are solid and his stint as the head of the White House's Office of Management and Budget is a critical résumé booster during these times of economic turmoil.
His opponents already smack of desperation, bringing up a rather strange marital situation -- his wife left him, he raised their kids, then she returned and they remarried -- which if anything makes Daniels look like a great father rather than a bad husband. They're also trying to tar Daniels with the out-of-control spending during the Bush years. However, Daniels was (1) not a member of Congress, (2) only there for the first two years of Bush's presidency, not the time of the most out-of-control spending, and (3) called "the Blade" by President Bush for his consistent push to cut budgets.
Daniels has been willing to make unpopular decisions, believing -- and being proven correct more often than not -- that the people would eventually come around to appreciate his government-shrinking efforts. One place where Daniels does have some political risk was his remarkable underestimation of the cost of the war in Iraq, though it's hard to see that as a deal-breaker in this year of various flawed candidates.
(UPDATE: The Press Secretary for Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels offers this in response to the issue of the Iraq War cost estimate:
As OMB director, Mitch Daniels was ordered to prepare an estimate for the defeat of the Iraqi army and a six-month aftermath ending with the 2003 fiscal year on September 30. The estimate of $50 billion to $60 billion was for that period. It was not an estimate for anything beyond.
I’ll also include a link to the March 2003 background briefing on the supplemental request then OMB director Daniels provided. You only have to go to the first question to see his description.
She added, "I’ll have to disagree with you about the governor’s charisma description but that’s another conversation.")
For a little more info about Daniels, I recommend this for The American Spectator.
In short, I think Daniels fits perfectly into Charles Krauthammer's suggestion, made in February at the 2011 Leadership Program of the Rockies Annual Retreat, that the Republican nominee should be someone "dull and competent" so that the election will remain focused on "Obama and Obama-ism."
Meanwhile, the more I look at the betting-odds front-runner to be the Republican nominee, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the more I see him at this election's John McCain, a man too unburdened by principle to inspire me or the more conservative Republican base. Is he the conservative he ran as in 2008? Or is he now the establishment candidate? And if he tries for the former, who will believe him?
It's not that Romney is a bad guy or even that he'd be a bad president. But how can a libertarian or conservative support a man whose major "accomplishment" in government is the state-level analogue to the major "accomplishment" of our socialist president. Romneycare and Obamacare are, if not identical twins, at least fraternal twins, and I can't share the joy of the proud parents.
If Newt Gingrich's campaign can be torpedoed in a day by his support of a "variation on" an individual mandate, why should Mitt Romney be able to skate on by without even the courtesy of offering a "variation" to the most liberty-crushing policy of the Obama Administration? Romney's argument that "it's OK because my method would screw just one state at a time rather than doing it in one national fell swoop" would be laughable if it weren't costing both his state and the nation so much money, freedom, and quality health care.
Sure, Mitt raised $10 million in a one-day phone-bank fundraiser. That kind of access to money is a huge asset in politics, and showing it early in the game is certainly calculated to discourage other presidential aspirants from jumping into the ring. But Mitch Daniels should not be dissuaded. If Daniels can perform well in early debates and early primaries, the money will flow to him. And his Midwestern roots should help him in the critical state of Iowa (while Romney has the geographical advantage in New Hampshire).
Furthermore, this election will not be determined only, or even primarily, by money. A strong Republican candidate will beat Obama while spending much less than our Campaigner-in-Chief does. According to the Washington Post, in the 2010 Congressional elections, in the 63 seats that Democrats lost to Republicans, the Democrats outspent the GOP by an aggregate $35 million, or about 20%. That was also despite the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees' (AFSCME) spending a reported $87.5 million in the 2010 election cycle, fully 30% of pro-Democrat independent expenditures according to the Wall Street Journal.
Yes, unions, especially public sector unions, will have to throw good money after bad in support of Barack Obama; after all, other than the reprehensible assault on capitalism by the National Labor Relations Board, this Administration has done little that the far-left union base wanted. No card check, a semi-freeze of federal employees' salaries, at least mild support for free-trade agreements. A Huffington Post commenter perfectly framed the unions' position: "Does the NEA really have a choice? Obama disappoints. But unless there's a viable third party nobody can be worse than the GOP."
But the fact that so much of Obama's money will come from unions makes those dollars worth a little less than they otherwise would be: Americans are coming to realize that public sector unions are, at least in a fiscal sense, the enemy. Every time an ad is paid for directly or indirectly by a union, a Reaganesque response of "There you go again" will dull the ad's impact as people are reminded that the primary goal of Democrats, and the only goal of the unions supporting Democrats, is to separate citizens from their money.
In other words, no viable Republican candidate should be scared off by Romney's one-day haul. It's also true that Romney has a nationwide organization that nobody other than perhaps Sarah Palin could match on Day One. But Republicans learned a lot in recent years; other serious candidates, if they can appeal to the grassroots and to the many young pro-liberty organizations around the nation, should be able to set up a competitive infrastructure. Can you Hear Me Now, Mitch Daniels?
How could Governor Daniels, especially with an online purchase of a few charisma pills (of course following a consultation with a deeply concerned physician), not suddenly be neck-and-neck with Romney for the nomination?
Daniels won re-election with about 58% of the vote in Indiana in 2008, a year in which Barack Obama carried the state.*
And although he has annoyed social issues conservatives, particularly Tony Perkins, more than once, Mitch Daniels' social issues credentials are solid. In the meantime, his determination to focus on economic issues while remaining unquestionably pro-life is about as electable a position as a candidate could have in a presidential election -- as long as it doesn't cause single-issue primary voters to avoid him.
Those would-be single issue voters should be reminded of what's really at stake here. If you think Obama is using regulatory agencies aggressively now, just wait until he won't have to consider re-election. And they should be reminded of Mitch Daniels' other solid qualifications, including serving as the Executive Director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee for two years during the Reagan Administration and then serving as Reagan's chief political advisor.
No candidate is perfect, but Mitch Daniels may be the nation's best hope as we search for a candidate who is principled, competent, and electable.
*Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly noted that in 2008 "Democrats took control of both houses of the Hoosier State's General Assembly." Not so. The state senate had been Republican all along, and the state house of representatives was already in Democratic hands.
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