American presidential elections tend to resemble a lunchtime saunter through a grocery store. Most presidential elections since 1968 saw voters looking to satisfy a craving. The craving that voters might have in 2012 seems to help and hurt some potential Republican nominees. One nominee it might help is Mitch Daniels.
Richard Nixon won in 1968 largely because Americans were hungry for some law and order — cops willing to beat down the unruly who were torching American cities and disrupting political discourse. The excesses of the year lead to a craving across the country for some peace and quiet.
Of course, Carter was the most obvious example of my theory of political cravings. Voters craved anything that wasn’t crooked, and Carter satisfied. They were hungry for integrity in government, or so they thought.
Sick of four years of inept integrity, voters in 1980 craved something new. The American economy was in the dumps and America’s strategic standing was ebbing. Hostages in Iran and Soviets in Kabul led to Americans craving, well, someone who would stand up for America. Enter Ronald Reagan.
Only Cheech and Chong in a 7-Eleven at midnight have bigger cravings than voters did in 2008. Like that hazy pair, voters would eat anything.
What sort of politician might America crave in the diminishing age of Obama? I believe an emphasis on fiscal sanity and the central importance of the rule of law may be what Americans will hunger for in 2012. They also will want something new. If so, this helps candidates like Mitch Daniels and hurts potential candidates like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Mitt Romney.
As a National Journal Insiders Poll shows, right now Daniels is surging.
Daniels has shown a commitment to and, more importantly, an understanding of the importance of the rule of law. Voters may have a big craving for a president who respects the rules and the Constitutional norms of the nation. The Obama presidency has served up a steady menu of lawlessness. From passing unconstitutional health care plans to encouraging lawlessness at American polling places to tossing aside ancient contract guarantees of security, this president has tolerated an erosion of the rules which have sustained our civilization for centuries.
Take the plight of the secured Chrysler bondholders. Governor Daniels, as ultimate overseer of the Indiana state retirement system which held secured Chrysler notes, fought back against the Obama administration’s lawlessness when they sought to reprioritize their place.
The bonds were purchased at a premium because they were secured against factory equipment. Bond markets that rely on established rules ensure that businesses can obtain capital to buy equipment, or even make payroll. These rules helped build cities, factories, and feed families. But to the Obama administration, they were a nuisance during the auto company takeovers.
Daniels ordered lawyers representing Indiana to fight back against Obama — the whole way to the Supreme Court — to defend the ancient principle of security in a note.
David Pippen, Daniels’ general counsel, put it to me this way: “We have laws for a reason, so people know the rules of the game. Secured creditors decide to lend money because they are secured creditors.” Obama has an answer for lenders who don’t want to lend money — just order them to do so.
Obama’s Justice Department fought back against Daniels — and, sadly, won. While the lawyers responsible for the bungling dismissal of the New Black Panther voter intimidation case have gotten a great deal of attention, the story behind the Holder Justice Department’s lawless attack on bond security has never been fully examined.
Meanwhile, Daniels’ chief political asset continues to be his reputation as a budget hawk. This trait could separate Daniels from the other candidates who want the federal government to shrink, but don’t know how to navigate through the budgetary labyrinth. Mitch “The Blade” Daniels is the most qualified of any potential Republican nominee on budgetary issues.
Of course, before Daniels can satisfy voter cravings in November 2012, he has to win the Republican nomination. Seemingly endangering those chances, Daniels has been dragged into the divide between social and economic conservatives, with his “truce” comments. But aspects of Daniels’ record may diminish this controversy.
Daniels has been called the most “pro-life governor in Indiana history” by local pro-life groups. He has aggressively pushed ultrasound requirements in Indiana, signing a bill requiring ultrasound technology to be made available for pregnant women to use to hear their baby’s heartbeat. And he signed bills requiring abortion clinics to abide by the same basic sanitary standards as hospitals. Both of these items have been top priorities of the pro-life movement for the last decade.
Before Daniels can find out if his rule of law and fiscal conservative menu satisfy November cravings, he needs to find a Palmetto State formula. As it always does, the path to the nomination will go through South Carolina. One can lose Iowa and New Hampshire and still win the nomination.
South Carolina politics are changing, but they aren’t changed. Pro-business mainstream conservatives who give no offense to evangelicals and mainline Protestants — and, ideally, who have demonstrable national security credibility — are the candidates who win the South Carolina primary. Everyone wondering who will be the GOP nominee in 2012 should read that last sentence ten times over. Failure on any point means failure in South Carolina.
Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, and John McCain all more or less fit the bill and secured the path to the nomination in South Carolina. For both Bushes, South Carolina was a three-time firewall.
Daniels, too, will need to appeal to GOP voters in places like Spartanburg, Greenville, Lexington, Chapin, Irmo, and Mt. Pleasant. A candidate who wins those six places likely wins the nomination. The best way Daniels can succeed is to find a way to shrink the divide between fiscal and social conservatives in the party. Otherwise, the divide may swallow those ill equipped to straddle it — particularly in South Carolina.