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Thinking About Mitch Daniels

Let me preface my remarks by saying that I admire Mitch Daniels. I think that he has been a fabulous governor, and I was once inclined to put him at the top or near the top of my list of plausible presidential hopefuls. That list does not , let me add, include Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, or Rudy Giuliani. I think that all four have qualities; I also think that their day is done. And I hope that these dinosaurs choose not to enter the presidential sweepstakes – since I suspect that their presence would muddy the process.

As I said, I once ranked Daniels at or near the top; I no longer do so. I would like to be proven wrong about him, but I have misgivings – and I am beginning to think that my suspicions are sound. Last summer, I posted on BigGovernment.com a series of pieces on executive temperament. I began with Barack Obama who had demonstrated by fecklessness on a grand scale that he lacked the requisite instincts. Then, I went on to examine a series of Republican governors – Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, and Mitch Daniels – who have demonstrated that they really understand what it means to say, “The buck stops here.” Finally, I posted a piece arguing that executive temperament is not enough – that principles matter. FDR was a man of executive temperament, and he exhibited all of the right instincts – in pursuit of ends inconsistent with everything that is good about this country. My aim in this exercise was to lay the foundations for a later judgment of Republican presidential contenders, and at the time I thought Daniels the most attractive of the lot.

The reason was simple, and it still holds weight. Daniels understands budgets, and he managed to put Indiana on a sound fiscal basis shortly before the beginning of the current economic crisis in 2007. Moreover, in the process, he showed himself to be both decisive and persuasive. To this, one can add that he knows the federal budget. He was George W. Bush’s first Director of the Office of Management and the Budget. He has a good grasp of our fiscal problems already. He knows down which rat holes the money is disappearing, and he is not apt to be behindhand in a quest to turn things around. We need someone with his expertise and his determination to prune. Even now, I find it hard to believe that there is anyone who would be better . . . in this particular.

But our fiscal crisis is not the only particular that the next President will have to address. It is pressing. It may seem to be the most pressing of our problems. But I could easily imagine difficulties that would outweigh the fiscal crisis. Indeed, I suspect that such difficulties may soon present themselves. Our strategic situation is less strong than it was in the recent past. In the Pacific, the Chinese are behaving like bullies, and step by step, at a far more rapid rate than we had anticipated, they are putting military pieces in place intended to guarantee them strategic superiority offshore. What this means no one knows. But it would be foolish not to plan for the worst. My bet is that over the next fifteen years they will try to duplicate Japan’s achievement in establishing a Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. In other words, their aim will be to achieve hegemony – both military and economic – over all of their neighbors: from Australia and New Zealand in the South to North and South Korea in the North.

I also believe that we are witnessing a strategic shift in the Mediterranean and the Near East. I have argued elsewhere, at some length, that Arab nationalism is finished – and that it is highly likely that the world of Sunni Islam will follow Shiite Iran in the direction of what I call “Islamic Revivalism.” Put simply, the Arab nationalism that emerged in the 1920s and came of age in the 1940s has failed. To the Arabs, it has brought neither prosperity nor military strength, and next to no one in the younger generation (apart from opportunists) is on its side. They are turning to the only remaining cultural force that has purchase in the post-Cold War world. They are turning to Islam, and to it they now look to answer all of their questions. I cannot predict the short-term consequences of the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Jordan, and Bahrain. But I believe that I can predict the long-term drift of politics in that part of the worlds and in Turkey as well. Those states will become more fiercely Islamic and much more hostile to us, to our European allies, and, of course, to Israel.

To this picture, we should add the Iranian quest to gain nuclear weapons. If that quest is successful – and I see no clear indication that, under Barack Obama, we are going to do anything decisive to stop it, the theocrats in Iran will become much more aggressive, and the Sunnis will move heaven and earth to get their own nuclear weapons. Given the concentration of oil in the states surrounding the Persian Gulf, this bodes ill for us and for our allies in Europe.

What does Mitch Daniels know about any of this? We have no indication. All that we know is that he believes that the military budget needs to be cut in the same manner as the rest of the federal budget. This I regard as profoundly dangerous. In the wake of the Cold War, we cut back massively – in the number of ships, the number of planes, and the number of men – and in recent years we have cancelled one procurement program after another, ignoring the gains made by the Chinese and our changing strategic situation in and beyond the Mediterranean. If Daniels thinks he can cut the budget further, I would want to know what missions he thinks we can safely drop. What we have done in recent years is to extend the responsibilities of the military while cutting back their resources. That way lies disaster.

What we are now doing cannot go on – and there is no indication that Mitch Daniels has given this problem a thought. My impression is that he deals with one problem at a time. In Indiana, that might work. It will not work in DC. The primary function of the federal government – the main reason it was created – is to provide for our defense. If Daniels is a green-eyeshade guy and that is all that he is, his presidency would be a national catastrophe. Barack Obama has already done great damage. We cannot afford more. In a time of technological dynamism, things can go wrong very, very quickly – and then we will not be worrying about Americans being out of work. We will be worrying about their being killed. If I am wrong in my suspicions regarding Daniels – and I hope I am – it is time for him to show his cards. I want to know what his understanding of our strategic situation is. In the absence of a clear statement, I could not offer him my support.

I also find his call for a “truce” with respect to the social issues disturbing. In the period since 1973, evangelical Christians, who had long voted for the Democratic Party, and Roman Catholics began drifting into the Republican Party. They did so for any number of reasons, but the primary driver was the stance of the Democratic Party regarding abortion. The Republicans welcomed them into their ranks, and they committed themselves to rolling back Roe v. Wade. But to date they have not delivered, and the evangelicals and the Catholics are restive in our ranks. Many of them are attracted – foolishly, I think – by the social welfare policies promoted by the Democratic Party. For generations, the Catholic bishops and priests have encouraged Catholic parishioners to think of social welfare as a form of charity, to mistake resources taken by coercion for free gifts, and many a Protestant preacher has in similar fashion come to preach the Social Gospel. Nonetheless, they are appalled – and rightly so – by the massacre of fifty million unborn Americans, and this has shaken them from the grasp of the progressives.

I am not arguing that the next election should or will be fought over abortion. No Republican presidential candidate has done so to date. What Mitch Daniels proposes, however, is not that the Republicans emphasize the fiscal crisis in 2012. No one would object to that. He is arguing that the social issues be set aside – temporarily, he says, until we have dealt with the fiscal crisis. In the meantime, we will have to form a larger coalition that takes in large numbers of those who favor abortion.

I have no idea whether Daniels has the wit to understand the implications of what he is proposing. I would like to think that he lacks the wit, for I would prefer to judge him a fool than to think him a knave. In any case, what I will say is that this is a matter that cannot be taken off the table any more than slavery could be taken off the table in the 1850s, Stephen Douglas to the contrary notwithstanding. We cannot have a “truce” over the legitimacy of the massacre of fifty million innocents. Truce is a euphemism for surrender – and if the Republicans surrender, the evangelicals and the Catholics will wander out of the coalition in much the same fashion in which they wandered in. And, then, what will be left?

There is one other matter that worries me. There has been a debate recently on the blog of The Weekly Standard – between Jay Cost, who tends to think that politics is about bread alone and who thinks Daniels’ truce viable, and John McCormack who thinks this notion daft, as I do. On Friday, Jennifer Rubin, who blogs now for The Washington Post and shares my foreign policy concerns with regard to Daniels, had this question to ask: What about the Supreme Court? What sort of judges will Daniels be apt to appoint?

It is a good question, as I suspect everyone who regularly reads Ricochet will agree, and Rubin’s answer is disquieting:

One clue to how Daniels would proceed is his record in appointing judges. Carrie Severino explains:

The single most important judicial issue in Indiana is the ongoing debate over the state’s method for appointing appellate judges. It’s not much of a debate, actually, thanks in part to Daniels. Indiana uses a form of the Missouri Plan, the commission-based method for choosing judges that was designed by Progressive Era lawyers to put “experts” in charge of judicial selection. The “experts,” of course, are lawyers. When the issue was in front of Daniels, he took the worst possible approach. In 2009, overwhelming majorities of the Indiana General Assembly (88-3 in the House, 35-15 in the Senate) approved legislation to kill that method in parts of Indiana. Governor Daniels vetoed it. …

Then, when Indiana had a supreme court vacancy to fill, he failed to say a single word about the state’s flawed judicial-selection process and dutifully appointed a nominee sent to him by the state’s nominating commission.

In other words, he didn’t care enough to raise a fuss. As if that were not enough, he wound up appointing Judge Steven H. David to the state supreme court. David, Severino explains, is a nightmare appointment from conservatives’ perspective:

David is a former chief defense counsel for detainees at Guantanamo Bay who praised the majority opinion in Boumediene v. Bush with this trite quote: “The most important thing that Boumediene held is something that I always thought was obvious … that in America, there are no law-free zones.” Or maybe he could explain why the official Steven David bio released by his office announced the fact that David is a member of the American Judicature Society, the leading institutional proponent of the Missouri Plan, and beneficiary of more than $1 million in contributions from George Soros’s Open Society Institute since 2000. Daniels may well have chosen the least bad option presented to him by the commission, but that cannot excuse him supporting a system that ties the governor’s hands to such an extent that he can only choose the least offensive of three liberal nominees.

This is the danger in electing a conservative who is focused on only one big thing; the other side winds up winning many important fights.

It seems to me that there is enough evidence for us to make a preliminary judgment regarding Mitch Daniels’ presidential candidacy – and that is, that he has given us reason to doubt whether he is up to the job. Of course, this does not mean that, if he were to be more forthcoming, we might not find ourselves called upon to rethink what is, after all, nothing more than a preliminary judgment. Nor does it mean that he should not have a place in the next Republican administration. His virtues are undeniable. Do we have anyone in our stable who would make a better Secretary of the Treasury or a better Director of the Office of Management and the Budget?

  1. KC Mulville

    Count me with Professor Rahe. 

    “Calling a truce in culture war” told me how Daniels sees the job, and that’s what disturbs me. It’s the assumption that our current financial crisis should postpone “the fight.”  But I don’t want a pause, and then go back to the same old fight. The conservative objection isn’t that we should fight for one result or another; it’s that our method of handling social issues has to change.

    Social issues, right now, are dictated by the Supreme Court. That’s not where the fight belongs. When we, as a nation, debate and decide how the law should address social issues, the legislature is the proper place. If sentiments change, or “evolve,” then the legislature is the proper place to update laws to reflect current sentiment. 

  2. KC Mulville

    (Continued)

    But now the Supreme Court usurps that role. When the Court finds a right that isn’t previously listed in the Constitution, they can only base their opinion on a philosophical theory of what it means to be human. To declare what are human rights is to impose their theory of human meaning. But if that wasn’t hubris enough, the Court took a further step; it claimed the exclusive authority to decide what those rights are. They prevent Congress from passing laws about social issues, effectively stifling any disagreement with their philosophy of humanity. Everything becomes a human rights violation.

    A UN official recently said that global warming is so important that it must be protected from democracy.  He’s so convinced that he fears disagreement. But that’s how the Court treats laws about social issues; they’re too important for democracy.

    When Daniels calls for a truce in the culture war, he betrays a misunderstanding of what conservatives are really fighting for. Conservatives don’t want the Supreme Court to usurp the legislature. The culture war is first a war about who decides. How do you ask for a truce about that? 

  3. Joseph Eagar
    Paul A. Rahe: For the record, I ignored the recent kerfuffle over the Right-to-Work proposal, figuring that we would know a bit more after the fact and that the other matters that I did discuss are sufficient to base a preliminary judgment on. · Feb 23 at 6:53pm

    Well, the one thing that will kill all anti-public-union attempts is if private unions feel threatened too.  I assume he feels the way he does because it could damage what other states are doing with their public sector reforms.

  4. Al Kennedy

     That’s a very important point KC.  I’ve always felt that one of the major reasons that Roe v. Wade has never really been resolved is that there was never a debate with a legislative solution.  It was decided by judicial fiat.  The other side then always says “What’s to discuss?  It’s been decided.”  Conservatives need to find a better way to bring these issues up so that we have a debate and then a legislative solution, and don’t rely on the courts to decide them.

  5. The Mugwump

     Professor Rahe has made some compelling arguments against Governor Daniels.  Nevertheless, I’m sticking with Mitch for the time being.  He will eventually be forced to provide his stand on the social issues.  I can wait. 

    I’d like to put forth Rudi’s name for vice president.  His tough guy persona would compliment the rather mild mannered Daniels.  Rudi would turn Biden into ground hamburger in a debate, assuming Obama chooses to keep the windbag from Delaware. 

  6. Al Kennedy

     Paules, you have identified another key component of a potential candidate, which perhaps Professor Rhue should have mentioned: have they demonstrated that they can govern effectively?  Mitch and Rudi have both demonstrated that they can govern effectively in the constituencies that they ran in.  The question will be if they decide to run, can they expand their constituency to the entire United States.

  7. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Al Kennedy: Thank you for articulating four important criteria that all conservatives should consider as they evaluate contenders for the 2012 presidential election.  I too had a problem with a “truce on social issues”.  I think it is broader than just discussing abortion and gay marriage.  Social issues intersect with some of the other criteria.  The list of social issues that should be debated is much longer and includes: the explosion of illegitimate births, the quiet acceptance of multiculturalism, the denigration of the family unit, the vocal opposition to traditional religion, the decreased emphasis on personal responsibility and many more.  The Liberal Project has always seemed to me primarily based on the tenet that a human being is simply an economic animal, ignoring the spiritual aspect that contributes greatly to a happy and fulfilling life and a successful society.  I think that policy solutions proposed by conservatives should take this into account and be discussed in a balanced way during an election.  

    It’s too early to know who would best represent the four criteria you describe. · Feb 23 at 7:07pm

    Yes, my focus was too narrow.

  8. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Brian Watt: Paul – On a Ricochet post some months ago about recalling and retrenching US military assets around the globe for fiscal reasons and the fact that the Cold War had long ago ended, I took the position that rather than scale back our military presence it might be better to maintain force structure and in some case increase it. For this I was roundly criticized. . . .- · Feb 23 at 7:03pm

    Right you were.

  9. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Brian Watt: continued – I agree that some of the older dogs in the Party have had their day. That said I think there is possibly one of the four you mentioned who could serve the next Presidential hopeful as either VP or Secretary of State because I believe he has a better grasp of world affairs than many of the rest of the field…and that would be Newt Gingrich. Frankly, I think he’s not in step with the current conservative move for fiscal responsibility on the domestic front but when it comes to understanding what’s at stake globally with the Middle East and with China, I can’t think of another Republican who can match him. It’s important that the next Secy of State has a sense of history and Gingrich, being a historian certainly is qualified in that regard.  · Feb 23 at 7:09pm

    Edited on Feb 23 at 07:16 pm

    Good to know. He is a useful man. His stance on global-warming is regrettable.

  10. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    katievs: I’m with you all the way on this one, Professor.

    Can we draft Walker?  I like him even better than Christie.  He’s less abrasive. Abrasive is great in NJ, but I’m not sure it’ll fly in the heartland.  Also, he terribly fat.

    I’ve been hugely impressed with Walker’s reassuring calm in this crisis.  He’s firm without being a jerk.  He’s articulate.  He comes across as highly competent and thoroughly sound in values.

    That’s what we’re looking for.

    I have an unpleasant (and thoroughly ungrounded) suspicion that Daniels boosters forced Mike Pence to stand down.  I’m a little mad about that.

    How about Walker/Pence, 2012?

    Or Walker/Ryan?

    Or Walker/Jindall? · Feb 23 at 7:56pm

    I like Walker too. He bears watching. Ryan is truly wonderful. Pence is an excellent man. I think that he thought himself unready. My bet is that he becomes Governor of Indiana. Then, with a bit of executive experience, something else may beckon.

  11. Standfast

    Okay,  I hear you.  So I cross Daniels off my presidential hopeful list.  Who is left?  I agree with you that Romney and company are dinosaurs, so who out there can carry the ball for us in 2012. 

    I do not want just someone who can win, but someone who will govern conservatively.  Someone who will lead.  Christie seems the best bet but running for president in ’12 is just too soon.  Jindal governs well but fails to inspire. Could he win?

    Who is left?  Jeb Bush?  His last name is a liability and I’m not so sure of his conservative credentials.  Palin can’t win, too much baggage. 

    I’m all ears.

  12. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Nathaniel Wright: None of these screams out as truly Conservative to me.  I keep reading that calling a truce on social issues means to give up on abortion.  I don’t believe that to be the case.  One can be an ardent opponent of abortion without once arguing to use the full force, i.e. the gun and cannon, of government to end it.  We can defund Planned Parenthood and discuss what abortion really means without arguing about Roe v. Wade and complaining that abortion is legal.  One need not make something illegal to prove its immorality.  Mores are more than written laws.· Feb 23 at 8:01pm

    Governor Daniels made it crystal clear when John McCormack did a profile of him for The Weekly Standard that it was abortion that he had in mind.

  13. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Scott Reusser: We should give Gov. Daniels the benefit of the doubt: At this moment he’s merely doing his part to usher in a new seriousness in the party regarding the issue he deems most crucial and about which he is most qualified to speak.

    If/when he’s a presidential candidate, we’ll expect more from him–weighing in on national security and all the rest. But right now, he’s most useful to the party, and to the country, making the non-diluted case for shrinking government, presidential politics be damned. · Feb 23 at 8:11pm

    I do not deny his utility nor the considerable virtues that he does possess. But our task now is to sort through the contenders — and we have been disappointed by our standard-bearers time and again.

  14. Freesmith

    I have a question, Dr. Rahe.

    Can you think of a single policy question, foreign or domestic, political, legislative or judicial, that Sarah Palin could not be trusted to make exactly the Right decision on?

    Just wondering.

  15. KarlUB

    Regrettably late to this thread, but one part of the initial post jumped out at me:

    “…[T]hen we will not be worrying about Americans being out of work. We will be worrying about their being killed.”

    Does anyone here actually think a defense budget at half the size will be incapable of preventing Americans from being killed if preventing such slaughter were the clear aim of our military establishment?

    Pulling defense off the table when it comes to budget cuts is as foolish as suggesting Medicare and Social Security cannot be touched. Dealing with all three will be necessary for a solution.

    And absent a solution to our current fiscal situation– which, yes, is THAT BAD– all of the other issues about which we care are rendered irrelevant.

  16. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Standfast: Okay,  I hear you.  So I cross Daniels off my presidential hopeful list.  Who is left?  I agree with you that Romney and company are dinosaurs, so who out there can carry the ball for us in 2012. 

    I do not want just someone who can win, but someone who will govern conservatively.  Someone who will lead.  Christie seems the best bet but running for president in ’12 is just too soon.  Jindal governs well but fails to inspire. Could he win?

    Who is left?  Jeb Bush?  His last name is a liability and I’m not so sure of his conservative credentials.  Palin can’t win, too much baggage. 

    I’m all ears. · Feb 23 at 6:30pm

    We need to look carefully at the whole field — especially those who are second-term governors or, like Pawlenty, have moved on.

  17. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Andrea Ryan: I hung on every word you wrote, Professor.  Your assessment of Gov. Daniels resonates with me, but the most alarming part of your post is your beautifully written description of the world going to hell.  It matches Claire’s fear that our children will all die.  There is so much at stake and there’s already a momentum gaining ground that feels like I’m witnessing a marvel of quantum physics.  Is this the vacuum that Krauthammer forewarned of when Obama began bowing to our enemies, insulting our allies and emasculating our position as the world’s peace keeper?  Would this still have happened if we had elected McCain?  I’m trying to understand how accurate my feeling is that Obama is destroying our planet. · Feb 23 at 8:59pm

    McCain, for all of his faults, would have been much, much better in foreign affairs. Romney would, I suspect, have been much, much better in dealing with the recession and the financial crisis.

  18. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Kenneth

    katievs

    Kenneth

    katievs

    Kenneth:

    Mitch Daniels’ pro-life record. by the way, won him the endorsement of Indiana Right to Life in 2008.  · Feb 23 at 8:16pm

    But notice, Kenneth, how it seems to be only people who don’t really care about the social issues that feel this way.  People who are deeply invested (and there are lots of those) in those battles see it very differently.

    They see it as a disastrous sell out at a crucial moment. · Feb 23 at 8:35pm

    Yes, and unfortunately those people wield a lot of clout in Iowa and South Carolina.  · Feb 23 at 8:48pm
    You say unfortunately, I say thank God.

    May a candidate emerge that we all can cheer on with a good will. · Feb 23 at 8:55pm

    That is the heart of the schism on the Right.  Social cons wield political clout disproportionate to their numbers, simply because of how our primary elections are structured.  · Feb 23 at 9:0

    You greatly underestimate their numbers and importance. If the evangelicals and Catholics stay home or drift away, we will lose again and again and again.

  19. Paul A. Rahe
    C

    For the record, I ignored the recent kerfuffle over the Right-to-Work proposal, figuring that we would know a bit more after the fact and that the other matters that I did discuss are sufficient to base a preliminary judgment on.

  20. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Kenneth

    John Marzan:

    But our fiscal crisis is not the only particular that the next President will have to address. It is pressing. It may seem to be the most pressing of our problems. But I could easily imagine difficulties that would outweigh the fiscal crisis. Indeed, I suspect that such difficulties may soon present themselves. Our strategic situation is less strong than it was in the recent past. In the Pacific, the Chinese are behaving like bullies…

    I also believe that we are witnessing a strategic shift in the Mediterranean and the Near East….

    What does Mitch Daniels know about any of this?

    Feb 23 at 9:21pm
    What foreign policy experience did Ronald Reagan have? 

    George W Bush had the benefit of his father’s foreign policy experience and what were the results?   Two foolish adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran on the verge of nuclear weapons and China rising towards regional hegemony.  · Feb 23 at 9:28pm

    Reagan had no foreign policy experience but he had lots of experience with the communists, and as Governor of California he spoke up frequently on foreign policy questions. He paid very close attention, and everyone knew it.