“My Man Mitch” – Will He Run?

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is a very popular presidential choice among the adult section of the Republican Party who realize that the “red menace” of government debt and deficit spending is a serious threat to the republic’s economic and social future (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen even called the debt “the greatest threat to our national security”).  But will Daniels run? 

As I’ve noted before (and Steven Moore of the Wall Street Journal  also made this point last Thursday at a meeting of the Federalist Society in Washington), it is going to be tough to defeat Obama in 2012 given what is happening in the economy (among other things).  So maybe Governor Daniels will stay out and move onto the next challenge when his term runs out in January 2013. 

However, the Indianapolis Star reported today that Daniels – in a meeting with the paper’s editorial board – “sounds like” he is going to seek the nomination.  The Star noted that “His answers made clear what we already knew — that he is giving the question deep thought — and underscored how intently he has worked through the issues that would face him and the messages on which he would base a campaign.”   It appears that Daniels will make a decision soon; he told the paper that “he would make a final decision on whether to run for president soon after the state legislature wraps up its 2011 session, presumably later this month.”

I hope he gets into the race – and believe he will do so.  Four things in particular make this the right time for Daniels: 

1.  This is a great chance for a budget guru with a record of fiscal conservatism to capture the nomination.  The budget and healthcare are going to be THE issues like never before and an able technocrat like Daniels offers a nice counter to both Romney and Obama given their less-than-shining track records in these areas.  Plus his “red menace” message is pitch-perfect for the kind of race the Republicans are going to have to run to win (especially since the Republicans’ similar insanity in the defense and foreign policy realm make that an area in which they will be unwilling to beat up on Obama).   Moreover, the cultural conservatives are going to present a much smaller hurdle for Daniels in the primary than they might normally be.  

2.  Daniels is no spring chicken and so won’t be as likely as other potential nominees to pass up this race for 2016.

3.  I’m as convinced as anyone could be so far out that 2016 is going to be Chris Christie’s election to lose if Obama wins reelection.  So given this along with Daniels’ age, 2012 is the governor’s only real window of opportunity.

4.  Daniels is well-positioned to capture Rust Belt states that are sure to be critical in the battle for Electoral College votes.  

Daniels is about as good a candidate (on the merits) for libertarians as we are likely to see this cycle.  His call for a “truce” on social issues/the culture war was heartening.  And his list of 5 best books suggests a serious and thoughtful advocate of dynamic markets who recognizes the danger of rent-seeking interest groups (though I think Capitalism and Freedom is a far better book than Free to Choose).

14 thoughts on ““My Man Mitch” – Will He Run?

  1. Not to hate on Uncle Milty, who is one of only a small handful of public figures I respect, but I couldn’t finish Capitalism and Freedom. He spent too much time talking about what the government SHOULD do.

  2. As a very conservative Hoosier, I say with full honesty that Mitch Daniels’ running in 2012 would be the only thing that might get me to vote for Mr. Barack Obama.

      1. It started with his 2004 campaign for governor. I was somewhat ambivalent toward him at the time, but I wasn’t happy with his style of campaigning, which was running around the state in an RV proclaiming that he was a country bumpkin “just like you.” Upon taking office, he then went back on most of his campaign promises.

        The most notable of the promises that I remember him breaking was regarding time zones. A compromise settling the time zone wars of the 1960s and 70s led to most of the state being on year round Central Daylight Time, or Eastern Standard. Mitch Daniels promised to move the entire state to be in line with Chicago. He then switched to the entire state being in line with Detroit, which makes no sense when Indiana is geographically completely within the Central Time Zone. After the first bill was killed due to inaction, one of his pals took a highway bill that was being brought up to vote, changed the content to Eastern DST, and forced multiple votes on the same day until it passed. As a result, many of us got to enjoy 10 PM sunsets (so much fun when there are young children around) in the summer, and 9:30 AM sunrises in October. It also meant that every other year we got to read obituaries of little kids who were run over as they walked to their bus stops in pitch black darkness. It also meant that the time zone boundary between the Central time and Eastern time became unstable, as the counties try to switch to Central and with Mitch Daniels fighting them. So, I have no idea where the time zone line is this year, and I’m not going to learn, because it will be somewhere else next year.

      2. After enacting Daylight Saving Time came the sale of the Indiana Toll Road. I’m not against privatizing state assets in theory, but I am in practice when it will mean that a small section of the population will end up paying to support people elsewhere. The Indiana Toll Road runs through only the northernmost counties in the state, and is used only by residents of those counties and people passing from Illinois to Ohio. The money gleaned from the sale ($3.8 billion, was it?) was to go mostly to the Indianapolis area, which already consumes most of the state’s tax revenues. Indiana at the time owed massive amounts of money to empty pension funds (but I guess that’s a theme everywhere), but put no money into those funds. $0 also went on debt repayments, maintenance, or a rainy day fund. It was all spent over Mitch Daniels’ first term buying his re-election building new, oftentimes unnecessary roads. After howls of complaint from the North, despite their court case being dismissed by one of Mitch Daniels’ pals in the judiciary (For failure to post $1.9 billion. I forgot under what grounds, only that it was half of what had been raised in the sale.), he gave those counties $40m each as consolation, provided it was all spent on new roads. That left St. Joseph county (265,000 residents) with the same amount as LaGrange county (35,000 residents, 38% German speaking).

        Now the state has a great many new roads busting the maintenance budgets, and no money left in the pot.

        Also, Mitch Daniels’ violated state law by holding the auction of a state asset in secret.

      3. After the Toll Road, Mitch Daniels solved the Indiana deficit. He transferred many state functions to the counties. Voila! The state’s deficit was gone, and the East Coast (and UK!) press came in and showered him with affection, neglecting to look closer and see that Indiana’s 92 counties were now running a combined deficit of the same amount that the state had just been running.

        The counties then tried to raise funds to cover their new deficits with the only tool available: property taxes. Around 2007 to 2008, property taxes in Indiana were shooting upwards at about a 30% clip. That began damaging Mitch Daniels’ popularity (though he was long since over the 30% low from 2005), so he worked another wonderful solution. Property tax rates would be capped, but the lost revenue would be offset with a higher sales tax. That’s right. Indiana residents would be paying the same as before, just in smaller amounts (so most won’t notice it) and to the state, not the counties with the obligations to cover.

      4. Mitch Daniels also wreaked havoc in the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Before covering that, I will also note that he pushed a new voter ID law and then shut down all of the places to acquire an ID within inner cities. For example Fort Wayne (population 250,000) has one BMV branch that is located to the extreme southwest, whereas Carmel, IN (an Indianapolis suburb where Daniels lives in violation of state law) has about six. Gary, IN might have zero, as Daniels’ head of the BMV said that they were moving the branch “to where people actually have cars.”

        Anyway, Mitch Daniels’ consolidated a great many branches, resulting in average visits to BMV branches lasting about three hours. On an average day, you can expect to see lines stretching out the door. They also removed the clocks in BMV branches in an attempt to hide the waits, forgetting that most people carry watches or telephones with built-in clocks. They also list your stay as starting at the check in and ending at the payment station, which are right next to each other, which explains the 2 minute average waiting time or whatever BS they’re currently posting on the BMV website.

        Daniels also put another of his incompetent pals in charge of upgrading the BMV computer system, a mess that resulted in hundreds of thousands of people being deleted from the system. I got the worse end of the deal, in that I was listed in the system, but with invalid ID, because they screwed up entering my name into the system. That resulted in three months of bouncing around between Indiana’s BMV and the local Social Security office before the Feds were finally able to prove to Indiana that I was in fact, a resident of the United States.

        There was more on the BMV, but that’s all I feel like thinking back upon in terms of it for the moment.

      5. A couple of last points. Mitch Daniels also started a prison lease system, in which Indiana would take money from states such as Arizona to house their maximum security inmates for them. Indiana, in addition to having no space to actually lease, simply through them in a medium security prison, which resulted in a bloody prison riot as the medium security inmates decided they didn’t want to share their bunks with the max. security individuals.

        After the DST bill was eventually forced through, Mitch Daniels promised time zone hearings to placate the unhappy populace. They didn’t happen until the Bush administration sent some people out (approval ratings for Republican representatives in Congress from Indiana were tanking as a result of Daniels) to deal with the mess. In November 2006 several Republicans at both state and federal levels were voted out in Indiana, which even some people in the Bush administration openly admitted was Daniels’ fault.

        Mitch Daniels also has a monumental ego. While all of his messes were working their wonder in the state, he was off writing columns in the New York Times about how he was bringing civilization to us.

        As it so happens, Mitch Daniels and I do agree on one thing. Hoosiers are generally really stupid people. Mitch Daniels taught me that. I didn’t believe him at first. (He made the claims in 2005.) I do now.

    1. Thanks for the link Jason. Useful background I had not considered properly in my post. I still think Daniels is the best of the bunch likely to run and able to compete in November 2012 (this latter point leaves out Johnson and Paul IMHO; the former leaves out Christie). Given the choice among Romney, Huckabee, Palin, Bachman, Trump, etc etc, Daniels looks pretty good despite these bad signs on healthcare policy.

  3. While I think Daniels is sincere in his views about focusing on the budget and making a truce on social issues, that hasn’t happened this year in Indiana. This session in the legislature has a big GOP majority which was put in place in reaction to Obama. All of the big pushes have involved hot button social issues, especially abortion and gay marriage. The state already has pretty conservative laws on both topics, but the GOP is pushing even tougher measures.

    I’m increasingly of the opinion that there is no split between GOP “activists” (or “the base”) and the rank-and-file on this issue. Most republicans are very conservative on social issues and are in no mood to agree to a “truce”. So I just don’t think Daniels strategy will work among Republicans.

    Certainly in the “red states”, the GOP has put in place very conservative laws on the social issues, and yet most Republicans still think more is needed. Interesting question as to why this is so.

    Also interesting question as to how the Independents will react to this. My guess is that Daniels is right and it will be hard to push BOTH a social- and fiscal-conservative agenda against Obama and win the Independents. And of course, the I’s control the outcome of the election.

    P.S. One more nice thing about Daniels is that he has a wicked sense of humor. Probably a liability in a politician, but still makes me admire him more.

  4. Mitch Daniels’s record as a fiscal conservative pretty much begins with his career as governor of Indiana. Back when he was working for the Bush Administration as Director of OMB, he was at least an enabler of fiscal profligacy.

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