April 25, 2011


Mitch Daniels sounds fiscal alarm, but Indiana Republican hesitant to run in 2012 (Dan Balz, 4/24/11, Washington Post)

As the time draws nearer, those who know him best see the tension rising as he weighs the political challenges and family trade-offs. “There’s a fight going on inside him that’s pretty rare,” said one adviser who asked not to be identified, in order to speak candidly.

Asked where he was in his thinking, Daniels replied with a laugh, “Oh, muddled.” Then he turned serious: “I don’t want to leave a misimpression. If we get in, we will go all out, and we know a little about how to do that. So reluctance or hesitation about running doesn’t mean we would be a reluctant candidate if we got there.”

Asked about family considerations — friends say his wife has been opposed — Daniels goes quiet. “I don’t have much more to say about that,” he said. “It’s just a very important factor.”

As he deliberates, calls come into his office, and the offices of his political advisers and friends, with words of encouragement. He has drawn praise from a number of conservative commentators. They see him as someone who can espouse conservative ideas but who believes the GOP must avoid appearing harsh or braying.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush told a Jacksonville audience in February that, among prospective GOP candidates, Daniels was the “only one who sees the stark perils and will offer real detailed proposals.”

Democrats, too, are taking him seriously. Obama advisers see him as a credible general-election candidate, if he can survive a nomination battle. Democrats, with some encouragement from Washington, have begun to step up their criticism of him and to question whether his record will hold up to serious scrutiny.

Daniels’s potential supporters see him as the anti-Obama, a 5-foot-7-inch, motorcycle-riding, balding politician who lacks the charisma Obama displayed during his 2008 campaign but who they believe has the intellectual heft and plainspoken appeal to go toe-to-toe with the president.

In reality, no one can predict how he would fare. His biography includes two terms as governor, service in the Reagan White House, and stints at the conservative Hudson Institute think tank and as an executive at Eli Lilly before joining the George W. Bush administration as budget director.

Daniels’s retail candidate skills — honed by nights spent in the homes of strangers and encounters with voters in coffee shops, fairs and flea markets along the back roads of his state — could play well in Iowa and New Hampshire. But his capacity to generate real enthusiasm across the party remains in question. He is still a blip in the polls.

In a field with many candidates who carry baggage, Daniels’s biggest burdens might be how he would run. Although he is solidly antiabortion, he has called for a truce on social issues to keep the focus on the country’s fiscal problems. That has riled social and religious conservatives and is already drawing criticism from potential rivals.

Daniels’s stock rose earlier this year after he spoke to the American Conservative Union’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference, where he delivered a sobering speech outlining the fiscal threat he sees looming.

“We cannot deter it,” he said. “There is no countervailing danger we can pose. We cannot negotiate with it, any more than with an iceberg or a great white.”

Daniels also said that night that the changes he advocates require big majorities. “We will need people who never tune in to Rush [Limbaugh] or Glenn [Beck] or Laura [Ingraham] or Sean [Hannity],” he said at CPAC, “who surf past C-SPAN to get to [ESPN’s] ‘SportsCenter.’ ”

In the debate between Ryan and Obama, Daniels knows where he stands. He called Ryan’s proposal for ending Medicare’s defined-benefit structure “exactly the right direction to head,” though he says he is open to other serious alternatives. Asked about Ryan’s proposal to convert Medicaid into a block grant with full flexibility for states, he replied, “Bring it on.” He says that means testing should be part of any solution to restructuring Social Security and Medicare.

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Posted by at April 25, 2011 5:51 AM

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