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My cover story on Mitch Daniels should be online at some point in the near future, but I’ll weigh in with a few observations. He is pro-life and believes marriage should be between a man and a woman. His record is generally quite conservative, with the few blemishes being on taxes rather than social issues. And he does understand that when it comes to restoring the country to solvency, solving the entitlements crisis is more important than cutting the defense budget (though all spending needs to remain on the table).
But here is where Daniels is coming from: He believes that the next conservative president needs to be willing to touch all the Third Rails to get the country on the right fiscal path. Doing this successfully will require the expenditure of all that president’s political capital. That won’t leave much left for picking fights on other issues.
And he’s right. Even if there are no further Obama-style expansions of our public spending commitments, the commitments already in place plus the aging of our population will Europeanize our economy. The Democrats don’t have to do anything else for this to happen. They didn’t even need to pass their health care law. The United States will not be able to remain a low-tax country. It will not be able to maintain as strong a national defense. There won’t be much future for the Republicans as a party of limited government or room for a political party to the right of Great Britain’s Conservatives.
The trouble, in my view, is that he has sent the signal that he will capitulate on all issues outside of spending. I’m not sure that this is actually how he would govern, but that’s the impression he is leaving with many people. Ronald Reagan was able to spend the bulk of his political capital fighting stagflation and the Cold War while standing with social conservatives. Chris Christie may devote the bulk of his political capital to fighting the public sector unions, but he hasn’t changed his position on abortion or marriage. That model is a better one than the terminology of truces. There’s a prudent difference between picking one’s battles and surrender.