Miles Taylor has written for The Chicago Tribune, The World Politics Review, The Daily Caller, and Arms Control Today. He works in the U.S House of Representatives and previously served in the Department of Homeland Security. He is co-founder and senior editor at Partisans.org.
Haley Barbour is out. The Mississippi governor announced this week that he would not seek the presidency, surprising many in the Republican Party establishment. The announcement left observers on the right feeling pessimistic (again) about the lackluster start to the 2012 campaign.
Barbour’s exit from the stage has led to some soul-searching. Will our party put forward a serious presidential candidate? Is anyone bold enough and experienced enough to take on the task? To hopeful observers, there is an answer — and all eyes are turning to the Midwest.
Indiana’s budget-slashing, motorcycle-riding governor, Mitch Daniels, has emerged as a quiet favorite — not simply because he appeals to Barbour's now-adrift supporters, but because the Hoosier politician is the party's single best hope for re-taking the White House in 2012.
Party insiders have, for months, fantasized about Daniels as a leading contender for the nomination — and his stock has gone up quickly in recent weeks. His was the first name on the lips of former Vice President Dick Cheney when discussing the race, and Daniels’ former boss, George W. Bush, is said to have privately urged him to run.
Yet even his closest advisers remain mystified about whether he will enter the race. Indeed, Daniels has stayed true to his word that he wouldn’t speculate about a presidential run until the end of Indiana’s current legislative session.
But the wait will soon be over. The state’s general assembly wraps up its work this week, having passed a legislative package pushed through by Daniels that includes a balanced budget, tax relief, and a school voucher program — initiatives branded by news outlets as “ready-made for a Republican campaign.”
There could be no better time for Daniels to announce his candidacy than after proving, yet again, that he has become one of the most effective governors in the nation. In his six years as governor, Daniels has amassed a stunning record, for which he was named a “Public Official of the Year” in 2008 by Governing Magazine. That record is ready to be showcased to the Republican base and, more importantly, the broader American electorate.
Daniels brings to the table real executive experience. Americans care about this now more than ever, particularly after witnessing the consequences of electing a president whose executive experience consisted of running a Senate office — the management equivalent of overseeing a medium-sized McDonald’s.
Mitch Daniels ran a Senate office, too, as Sen. Dick Lugar’s chief of staff, but did so at the beginning of his career. Since then, he has overseen a major think tank, a Fortune 500 company, the White House Office of Management and Budget (and America’s three-trillion dollar budget) under President Bush, and the state of Indiana.
Daniels also has a stronger domestic policy record than any of his potential opponents — and is a fiscal conservative’s dream. He entered office facing a $600 million budget deficit and in one year turned it into a $300 million surplus. During the recession, Indiana was one of the few states to emerge in the black after Daniels cut nearly $2 billion in spending. It’s tough to find a candidate with better credentials for tackling the country’s fiscal woes. At the same time, the governor was able to attract tens of thousands of new jobs to the state through his innovative Indiana Economic Development Corporation.
He has also been a forceful advocate for de-regulation to improve America’s economy.
“The regulatory rainforest through which our enterprises must hack their way is blighting the future of millions of Americans,” the governor declared in a recent speech. “Today’s EPA should be renamed the ‘Employment Prevention Agency.’ After a two-year orgy of new regulation, President Obama’s recent executive order [to reduce regulation] was a wonderment, as though the number- one producer of rap music had suddenly expressed alarm about obscenity.”
Limited-government conservatives will be excited to note that Daniels used variations of the word “freedom” roughly 30 times in the same speech.
Daniels’ record also demonstrates a passion for real solutions to manageable problems. “Purity in martyrdom is for suicide bombers,” Daniels likes to say. And he has shown a willingness to compromise in order to achieve his broader policy goals, including the successful launch of health savings accounts in Indiana, a plan to cut taxes (and to automatically return money to Hoosiers when the state runs surpluses), and bold education reforms that feature vouchers for low-income students and merit-pay for public school teachers.
Mitch Daniels is not only the “hand-in-glove” candidate to fix today’s public policy challenges, but he is the ideal leader to help shape tomorrow’s America—the America that current 20-somethings want to live in one day. Our generation is hungry for a candidate that refuses, again and again until he is blue in the face, to pass the buck onto his children. We are watching— and judging—our nation’s leaders on these issues, particularly whether they decide to leave America’s fiscal train wreck on our doorstep.
Obama may have swept the youth vote in 2008. But Mitch Daniels can give him a run for his money with the Twitter generation in 2012. Daniels talks the best game in town when it comes to confronting issues head-on that young people care about, has a proven record of addressing them, and—yes—he even rides a motorcycle.
Republican skeptics are concerned that Daniels is a “blank slate” on foreign policy, though. This may be true, but we don’t have to guess hard at what a Mitch Daniels foreign policy would look like. He was a top advisor to the president who ended the Cold War, Ronald Reagan, and was a member of the National Security Council of one of the most ardent democracy supporters to have ever occupied the Oval Office, George W. Bush. He has also offered praise for both presidents’ “peace through strength” policies.
But perhaps the best sign that Mitch Daniels would be a great candidate is his hesitance to seek higher office. As Plato famously noted, the ideal leader is the reluctant one — the one that doesn’t hunger for power and prestige. At an early age, Daniels demonstrated this quality, turning down an appointment to a vacant U.S. Senate seat, afraid it would take him away from his young family. Now he is being drafted again, this time to run for the nation’s highest office.
Daniels is the ultimate counterweight to the current president on everything from balancing the budget to fixing America’s economy, and he would electrify the Republican field and young voters. The only problem now is getting him into the ring. America needs a “Mitch Daniels” to join the fight now more than ever. And this week or next, we’ll find out whether we get one.
A version of this article appeared on Partisans.org.