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Perhaps the biggest story from the weekend’s Values Voters summit doesn’t belong to the winner — Mike Pence, who edged Mike Huckabee in the straw poll — but instead to the loser. According to Politico, that loser is Mitch Daniels:
While reluctant to criticize Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels by name, speaker after speaker implicitly criticized the potential presidential candidate’s suggestion that the next president call a “truce” on hot-button cultural issues to focus on budget-related matters….
“Those who would have us ignore the battle being fought over life, marriage and religious liberty have forgotten the lessons of history,” said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) in his speech Friday. “America’s darkest moments have come when economic arguments trumped moral principles.”
This is the price Daniels pays for his reluctance to signal the minimum level of commitment to social conservative priorities. The tragedy is that it appears that Daniels appreciates the severity of the country’s fiscal problems in a way that presidential hopefuls like Pence and Huckabee do not. Social conservatives should recognize that cutting spending should be a higher priority for their coalition than it would be in normal times. Any Republican elected to president would face enormous pressure to deal with our economic problems — just as Obama is right now — and his (or…her) political capital for spending on social items would be tied to his (or…her) success in addressing our economic troubles. In a number of ways, Daniels, right now, seems better prepared than anyone else in that regard.
So it’s a shame he has allowed himself to become a pinata at the Values Voters conference. To fix the problem, however, would be easy. Just acknowledge that there’s no possible “truce” on social issues, and communicate a willingness to reinstate the Mexico City Policy, nominate conservative judges, and do whatever possible to prevent federal funding of abortions through Obamacare. Then he would be free to de-emphasize social issues in his rhetoric.
And once he’s done that, he can start thinking about whether he wants to mend relations with “national security” conservatives…