WEST LAFAYETTE – During the closing minutes of a podcast with The Bulwark’s Mona Charen last week, Mitch Daniels once again speculated on his tombstone epitaph: “He raised four wonderful daughters and reformed the BMV.” By Sunday, the Frugal Hoosiers for Mitch Twitter feed appeared to revise its intent: “#runmitchrun … for Governor … or President would be great too.”
That’s in “President” as the one living at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., in the District of Columbia, and not at Purdue University’s Westwood.
With the federal debt and the earth’s oceans swelling to unprecedented levels, with the nation reeling from the Jan. 6 insurrection and FBI searches at Mar-a-Lago, and with the Grand Old Party on a troubling and doomed authoritarian – no, “fascist” – trajectory, it is time to dust off those green “Run, Mitch, Run” signs 11 years after they were unceremoniously stuffed into the nether reaches of the closet. This came after Gov. Daniels suffered his only electoral defeat (in the Daniels Family Female Caucus).
If there is a “draft Mitch” movement percolating here in Indiana, it should be for the 49th governor of Indiana to become the 47th president of the United States. His daughters are older now. Former First Lady Cheri wouldn’t face the kind of scrutiny she did in the pre-Trump era.
Or as Washington Post columnist George Will put it on MSNBC’s Morning Joe when host Joe Scarborough asked him who might be the best post-Trump Republican to run in 2024, he responded, “Mitch Daniels was the president we should have had.”
Watching “President Daniels” do a “Fireside Chat” with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Sen. Todd Young and Gov. Eric Holcomb Tuesday morning after touring Purdue’s emerging semi-conductor ecosystem was seeing this executive in his proper element, talking big picture horizons with the world’s biggest players. After the tour, Sec. Raimondo pronounced herself “blown away” by what she saw while Sec. Blinken unabashedly predicted that “America is back.”
“If you need a jolt of optimism, it’s all right here,” Blinken said.
On this past Friday, the day after President Biden warned that the nation was in danger of being subverted by election denying “MAGA Republicans” Charen asked Daniels to comment on the former, noting that Donald Trump was also pledging second term pardons for the insurrectionists.
“I’ve spent 10 years ducking questions like this,” Daniels responded. He then said, “I’ll just make no objections to the statements the president made. These are things that needed to be said. I think there are anti-democratic tendencies on both ends of the spectrum.”
But Charen countered, saying that only the MAGA Republicans are currently “subverting democracy.”
“Completely agree,” Daniels responded.
Charen asked “What’s your next move?” after he departs Purdue in December. “I don’t have a clue,” he responded. “I’ve never been much of a planner. I haven’t one right now.” He went on to call a 2024 candidacy “unlikely.”
When he returned to Indiana to seek the governorship in 2003, he coined the phrase and successful campaign slogan, “Aiming higher.” Mitch Daniels needs to heed that admonition, look beyond a third Indiana gubernatorial term and focus his prescient mind toward his political party and his nation.
He finds the vast majority of the GOP either publicly silent, or sullied when it comes to the disastrous impacts of Donald Trump. The silence of those Republicans who haven’t denounced Trumpism is deafening; a stunning abdication of political leadership.
In 2011, he warned CPAC of the growing “red menace” of uncontrolled national spending. He urged the GOP to take a “truce on social issues.” CPAC is now the debased territory of Trump and Viktor Orbán.
What has happened since? According to the Congressional Budget Office, in fiscal year 2021, the federal deficit totaled nearly $2.8 trillion. President Trump was no fiscal “conservative.”
And social issues? The Republican Party is poised to botch the historic mid-term trends this November in a way they haven’t since 1998. And it’s worth restating, that since Donald Trump hit the scene in 2015, he lost the popular vote in both the 2016 and 2020 elections, the Senate in 2018 and again in 2020 when he helped kick away two Georgia seats, and lost the House in 2020. It’s an unparalleled legacy by a Republican since ... President Herbert Hoover. Because of “candidate quality” in Trump-endorsed Senate candidates, the former president risks losing a Senate majority in three consecutive elections this Nov. 8.
Mitch Daniels’ first political job was with Bill Ruckelshaus, whose career pinnacle occurred in 1973 when he valiantly stood up to a flagging President Nixon during the infamous Watergate era “Saturday Night Massacre.” American needs such courage today.
Daniels has played key roles with mayor and U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, led the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and was President Reagan’s White House political director and Bush43’s White House budget director. He is a self-described acolyte of the legendary L. Keith Bulen.
If Mitch Daniels could summon the spirit of Keith Bulen tonight, and relate to him the atrophy staring down today’s GOP and the nation, I can just imagine the advice he would receive from the legendary chairman ...
“Run, Mitch, run. If not now, then when? If not you, then who?”
“Aim higher, Mitch. Aim higher.”
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.