Ron Radosh

Why Mitch Daniels Should Enter the Race: The Real Conservative Alternative

Any viewer who stayed tuned after our campaigner-in-chief’s SOTU speech last night had the opportunity to watch the GOP response by Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana. The feeling of many Republicans and conservatives, including myself, is an instant one: why isn’t this man a candidate for the presidency? Evidently, judging from this new website, many people feel the same way.

Republican responses to a presidential SOTU speech can be career killers for politicians who hope at some time to run for the executive office. Remember the disastrous appearance by Bobby Jindal of Louisiana a few years back? But those who saw President Obama’s lengthy, boring, and uninspiring faux populist presentation could see a strong contrast from the Indiana governor. As the full text of his speech shows, Daniels touched upon the important themes that our president completely ignored. Daniels said:

In three short years, an unprecedented explosion of spending, with borrowed money, has added trillions to an already unaffordable national debt.  And yet, the President has put us on a course to make it radically worse in the years ahead.  The federal government now spends one of every four dollars in the entire economy; it borrows one of every three dollars it spends.  No nation, no entity, large or small, public or private, can thrive, or survive intact, with debts as huge as ours.

The President’s grand experiment in trickle-down government has held back rather than sped economic recovery.  He seems to sincerely believe we can build a middle class out of government jobs paid for with borrowed dollars.  In fact, it works the other way: a government as big and bossy as this one is maintained on the backs of the middle class, and those who hope to join it.

Mitch Daniels excels in making conservative principles and ideas coherent and understandable to everyday Americans. He does not come off as condescending or hectoring, but rather, as a man who wants a good and strong America, and who realizes that the decades of crony capitalism and stale reactionary liberalism have had their day.

Rather than seeking to pit have-nots against haves, or the so-called 99 percent against the greedy evil 1 percent, Daniels makes this cogent argument:

As Republicans our first concern is for those waiting tonight to begin or resume the climb up life’s ladder.  We do not accept that ours will ever be a nation of haves and have nots; we must always be a nation of haves and soon to haves.

He holds out a political and economic future in which all have the ability and access to climb the ladder to success; rather than to demand a redistribution of wealth from the elite to the many that would drag down the economy and make our country another Greece in the near future.

Democrats want to depict Republicans as a party and conservatives as a group of people who want to push Grandma off a cliff. As a grandfather a few times over myself, I know that the prescriptions of liberalism would bankrupt our whole country, and push us collectively off to a dark future. I too want a better future for my grandchildren, and that means addressing our debt and instituting policies that would save the fabric of our social order, while at the same time providing a real and manageable safety net for those who really need it. As Daniels points out,

we must unite to save the safety net. Medicare and Social Security have served us well, and that must continue. But after half and three quarters of a century respectively, it’s not surprising that they need some repairs. We can preserve them unchanged and untouched for those now in or near retirement, but we must fashion a new, affordable safety net so future Americans are protected, too.

With that explanation, he cuts through in one fell swoop the false charge that conservatives are enemies of the poor and the needy, and want to abandon them entirely to the vicissitudes of the free market. His answer is to stop giving the wealthy social benefits they do not need, reserving the programs for those who actually do. It is not to take their wealth from them and supposedly give it out en masse, a step which in reality would do little to address our nation’s problems.

The truth, as Daniels went on, is that Republicans “alone have passed bills to reduce borrowing, reform entitlements, and encourage new job creation, only to be shot down time and time again by the President and his Democratic Senate allies.” He and we stand for a pro-jobs, pro-growth economic policy, the kind that the blue-collar working-class (that the Democrats have abandoned) understand and will support. If we fail to do this, he concludes accurately, “there will never be enough public revenue to pay for our safety net, national security, or whatever size government we decide to have.”

The question is: Why cannot the current crop of proclaimed candidates have the ability and the wherewithal to make this case so cogently and in a way that does not seem threatening to independents and swing voters? Let us face the truth. If nominated, Newt Gingrich will be Obama’s greatest gift, producing a majority for Obama that in a normal political climate should be an easy defeat for him and victory for the Republican Party in 2012. As Ryan Mauro points out in, the polls show Romney outperforming Gingrich in every major swing state — precisely those that have to be won if Obama is to be defeated. He concludes:

If the election were held today between Obama and Romney, the president would win with 301 electoral votes. If Obama ran against Gingrich, he’d be re-elected with 357 electoral votes. Based on the polls today, it is undeniable that Romney is much more electable.

In a similar vein, the editors of National Review write that,

Gingrich as nominee would have to train his fire on Obama, who will be able to fight back as John King could not. Nor will the public at large be as impressed by Gingrich’s willingness to attack Obama as a clueless radical as Republicans are. (If voters decide in 2012 to reward the most slashing or sardonic debater before them with the presidency, it will be a first.) When Republicans found themselves in tight spots during the Reagan presidency, they waited for their leader to give a speech to show them the way forward and rally the troops. When Gingrich was Speaker, Republicans never sought him to intervene in legislative debates to turn the tide.

The main point as to why Gingrich is so vulnerable, they argue, is that “only Gingrich has never been elected to office from anything larger than a congressional district; only Gingrich has never had to reach beyond the Republican base vote to win an election.” The only constant in his lengthy decades-long career is that “Gingrich has never been popular. Polls have never shown more than 43 percent of the public viewing him favorably at any point in his career. Gingrich backers say that he is inspiring. What he mostly seems to inspire is opposition.”

The NR team is correct. Newt Gingrich’s high votes are the result of a Republican unrepresentative base that wants a bloody fight and a shouting match — one that in fact will not occur in the two scheduled presidential forums, whose character is determined by the administration’s committee, and which will be anything but the model of a Lincoln-Douglas debate that Gingrich continually promises.

Gingrich also falsely continually compares himself to Ronald Reagan, with whom he says he worked to overthrow the Soviet empire, among other things. But as Elliott Abrams points out in a devastating review of where Gingrich actually stood when Reagan was president, more often than not Gingrich levied dangerous and false charges against Reagan, when he was developing a policy that actually led to the Soviet Union’s eventual collapse.

Of Daniels, Bill Kristol says somewhat with tongue-in-cheek, “if Mitch Daniels’s effective tax rate is 30 percent rather than 15 percent, and if he was never paid $1.6 million by Freddie Mac, he can be the next president.” To put it another way, Daniels does not have the negatives for the general electorate of both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

Yes, Daniels is not running, and for personal reasons, he decided long ago not to enter the race. I understand that there are family considerations. But if this election is so critical for our future as conservatives argue, a candidate with a chance to defeat Obama should put country ahead of family. Daniels is a man who has both private sector and government experience, is popular with Democrats and independents, and has won elections from the votes of both these groups in Indiana.

Let me relate one episode I personally witnessed when Daniels spoke. Some months ago, when his book was published, Daniels appeared as a guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I happened to be in the audience for the taping that day, and Stewart — whose entire program is half an hour — interviewed Daniels for more than one hour. The segment did not air, and was posted instead on the program’s website. I was greatly impressed by the calm manner in which Daniels spoke to and explained his conservative views to Stewart, who, as we all know, is a bona fide left-liberal in his personal views.

After the taping, Stewart did something I think is rather unusual. He came back out to the audience, and said something like : “Isn’t Mitch Daniels the real thing? Isn’t he terrific? Why can’t other Republicans be like him?” He also speculated on how different it might be if Daniels entered the race himself, and noted that one outspoken audience member (not me) made her voice known before the taping about how she wanted him to run, and how she supported him strongly. Stewart even mentioned that to Daniels during the taping, and he did so again in his post-show remarks.

If the liberal Jon Stewart can be impressed by Mitch Daniels, even though he disagrees with his prescriptions, and can listen to him and judge his arguments without rancor, that says something to me about Daniels’ wide appeal. He too has made money in his life, but he does not come off as the stereotype of the rich capitalist in a top hat that the Obama team will use to beat Mitt Romney over the head  if he wins the nomination.

That is not Romney’s fault. He is a good man, and in the absence of another candidate, I am strongly backing him. But he makes the kind of comments (the $10,000 bet and $400,000 a year in speaker’s fees is not much) that enables his opponents to easily paint him as an out-of-touch elitist who is far removed from the common man and his concerns.

In the meantime, if Gingrich does win the nomination, the bloodletting between Newt and Mitt through the primary season will weaken his candidacy, and the Republican Party will make Gingrich the equivalent of the Democratic Party’s candidacy of George McGovern in 1972.

So I support those who hope for a brokered convention, at which time neither Mitt nor Newt will have enough votes to win on a first ballot, and the Republican Party can turn to someone else with a real chance to win against Barack Obama. At this point, I think, that candidate is Mitch Daniels.

See video of Mitch Daniels’ rebuttal here.

UPDATE: 11:25 am East Coast Time

In Today’s Weekly Standard blog, Jay Cost makes a further case for Mitch Daniels entering the race:

Somebody else – somebody with the ability to make the case for reform in a sober and courageous manner – should jump into this race. And not just to keep Obama from a second term. If 2012 is a decisive election – then we need a candidate with the courage and rectitude to make the choice clear to the voters, so that once in office he has the mandate to fix this mess.

Daniels could be that candidate. While he could not win an outright majority of delegates because of the passing of too many filing deadlines, he could do what Bobby Kennedy attempted in 1968: get in late, do well in the latter contests, win some big states, and make the case that, early primaries aside, he is the true choice of the party, the one who could unify everybody around a common cause. If nobody has won a majority of delegates by June, that could very well be enough for a dark horse victory for Daniels.

Let’s hope he’s open to the idea.