Until now, I have been relatively sanguine. As I pointed out in a detailed post last June, Barack Obama does not have an executive temperament, and there are plenty of Republicans – e.g., Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, and Mitch Daniels – who do. Christie may not be sufficiently seasoned, I thought. Jindal may not have found a way to display sufficient gravitas. But Governor Daniels was extremely plausible. His record as Governor was impeccable, and in his personal life he had displayed a patience, reliability, and steadfastness that borders on the heroic. His wife left him and their children for another man. He took it upon himself to rear their children; and when she had second thoughts and returned, he took her back. He is a good, good man.
As regular readers of Ricochet know, I nonetheless harbored misgivings with regard to Governor Daniels. An executive temperament – a genuine willingness to take responsibility – married to bad principles is apt to be disastrous. Witness Lyndon Baines Johnson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. When Governor Daniels called for “a truce” on the social issues, I feared that, if elected President, he would spurn social conservatives, try to make a tactical alliance with those who are socially liberal and fiscally conservative, appoint pro-abortion lawyers to the United States Supreme Court, break up the coalition between those who are libertarian on economic issues and conservative on social questions that sustains the Republican Party, and leave evangelical Christians and church-going Catholics with no compelling reason to vote Republican. When he spoke of taking an ax to the defense budget, I worried that he would be the American Stanley Baldwin.
In time, by joining the Republicans in the Indiana legislature in defunding Planned Parenthood in that state, he allayed the first of my concerns; and, in a long post on Ricochet, examining the various possible Republican presidential candidates, I took a look at Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and Mitch Daniels. Of these, it seemed to me Governors Pawlenty and Daniels were the most plausible. And of the two, Governor Daniels was by far the better qualified.
I was, as I say, relatively sanguine. As President, Barack Obama has been a disaster, and the American people understand as much. They witnessed the passage of the so-called “stimulus” bill, of Obamacare, and of Dodd-Frank. They were aware that these bills were thousands of pages in length and incomprehensible. They knew that the process by which they were passed was anything but transparent, and they recognized that the economic policy followed by the Obama administration has hindered recovery; they feared the implementation of Obamacare; and they spoke their minds in the midterm elections in 2010, restoring the Republican Party to a strength at the state level not known since the 1920s.
All that it took, I thought, was for the Republicans to choose for themselves a standard-bearer who could articulate the principles that distinguish their party from the Democrats. It helped immensely that John Boehner had marshaled the Republican majority in the House of Representatives behind a program based on those principles and that Paul Ryan had defeated President Obama in the debate concerning the necessity of paring back the welfare state. In my opinion, no one – apart from Ryan himself – was better situated for articulating those principles than Governor Daniels.
I will not mince my words. We as Republicans and we as Americans have been ill-served by the Governor. I understand perfectly well why he has decided not to run, and I respect his reasons. Were he to become a candidate, the spotlight would be focused on his family, and, given their history, that would undoubtedly be hard on his wife. But Governor Daniels has known this all along. The matter was mentioned in a Weekly Standard profile published late last Spring, and he could and should have sorted this out with his family then. Instead, he strung us along until the last minute. He caused other possible candidates to assume that he would be in the race, and able individuals like John Thune, Mike Pence, and Haley Barbour calculated the likelihood of success and, in the circumstances, rightly chose to turn away.
In ordinary times, Governor Daniels’ conduct might not much matter. But we are living in an extraordinary time. Barack Obama has led us to the edge of a precipice, and he has forced us to look into the abyss. For the first time in my lifetime the American people understand tolerably well what is at stake. If we do not set things straight now – if we do not find a way to pare back the entitlement state and get our fiscal house in order without raising taxes to a level likely to choke economic growth – we are apt to go the way of France in combining economic stagnation and high structural unemployment with military incapacity. And if that happens, the results will be far worse for us than for the French. They had the Americans to defend their interests, and we have . . . no backstop. If, for understandable personal reasons, Governor Daniels was not going to be in a position to become our standard-bearer, it was incumbent on him to say as much long ago.
We will now have to rethink. In my next post, I will consider what is likely to happen if we let things drift. Then, in another post, I will try to suggest what might be done.