If you’ve got 42 minutes to kill, I’d highly recommend taking a look at the latest installment of Peter Robinson’s Uncommon Knowledge interview series. This one has a relevant subject: Indiana governor and possible 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitch Daniels.
In the interview, Robinson goes through some of the messaging missteps Daniels has made and gives him the opportunity to plow through – or paper over – them, as well as further developing some of the themes he’s sounding in the runup to potentially jumping into the race.
Daniels does well. He’s reasonable, has the correct perspective, understands the political climate as well or better than other candidates or potential candidates in the race (as an example, Human Events has a three–part interview, at least so far, with Donald Trump which yields absurdities in discouraging quantities) and as he demonstrates in the interview he has a record of achievement as governor which gives him credibility.
That said, Daniels needs better people if he’s going to make a successful run. While his tone is very useful from a leadership perspective and a president who’s willing to speak to and recruit to his side a large swath of people who might not be his ideological allies would be a welcome change from what we have now, those things are not going to win the nomination.
His statements about a “truce” on social policy in the interview are correct, as the best example. Social issues aren’t of primary importance at present, because America is becoming a banana republic – and our focus must be on preventing our fiscal house from burning down. But the word “truce” is a bad one, as it implies a degree of conciliation that social conservatives will interpret as a sellout. A better statement would be that Daniels would prefer to “hold the line” – which is essentially saying the same thing but in a more muscular way that would reel in GOP primary voters who are animated by social issues. Daniels’ record on social issues as governor of Indiana is quite good from a conservative perspective. He should stick to that record but relate everything back to his core message of fiscal conservatism.
For example, Daniels should have mentioned Planned Parenthood in the Robinson interview. He should have advocated that it be de-funded by the federal government – not because through Planned Parenthood federal dollars are paying, at least indirectly, for abortions but because we are running a $1.6 trillion budget deficit and we don’t have the money for essential government services much less something non-essential like Planned Parenthood. He should have said “I’m bringing Planned Parenthood up because it’s been in the news and my friend and fellow Hoosier Mike Pence is working hard to take it out of the budget, but there are lots of organizations getting federal funds for all kinds of locally-oriented missions – some of which I agree with – that we’ll have to stop funding if we’re going to get our house in order.”
Democrats might hate him for taking such a position, but Daniels doesn’t need Democrats right now. He needs Republicans.
And if he’s going to run for president he’s going to need to take some shots at the current occupant of that office – something he hasn’t done. Daniels talks – and I believe wisely so – about how Republicans should do their best to be civil in their dialogue with the public. But this is a man who has demonstrated successful leadership and achievement both as a governor and in the business world, and he has an opportunity to demonstrate that by drawing contrasts between what he’s done in Indiana and what Obama is doing in Washington. It’s clear the president is failing to lead, so Daniels should begin instructing him how it’s done. The budget is a perfect medium to do that; perhaps Daniels should begin offering advice to the president on how he should approach the problem. Obama won’t listen, of course, but every time Daniels makes a suggestion about the budget that isn’t responded to or is disagreed with by the president it elevates Daniels as the idea man who can fix things against the current president who’s more interested in golf and the NCAA Tournament. For someone whose style is more about quiet competence and stability than bombast or elevated rhetoric, a strategy of attacking the president on a practical, even constructive, basis is a workable one.
And finally, he’s going to need to get a lot more comfortable in the hot seat. While what Daniels said is quite reasonable and ultimately correct, you get the impression watching him that he’s walking on eggshells. Certainly that’s understandable; from his perspective he’s getting eaten alive by people he actually agrees with for making statements or suggestions that ultimately his critics on the Right probably wouldn’t abandon him for if he was president. And that kind of pressure and scrutiny would make anyone uncomfortable, much less a soft-spoken governor from flyover country. But while Trump’s interview with Human Events is replete with 6th-grade solutions, like clawing hundreds of billions of dollars from the Chinese or South Koreans or Iraqis to pay for American entitlement programs, The Donald makes the case for them so forcefully and with such confidence that you can find yourself wanting to agree with him.
Daniels needs some of Trump’s bombast. He has much better ideas and frankly, much better qualifications. But it’s going to take some sizzle for him to win the nomination, much less the presidency, and if he’s serious about running he’s going to need to develop it.