Yesterday over on NRO’s Corner I mused a bit about the political question of the moment: whether Mitch Daniels will or won’t run, and whether he should. My assumption is that when Haley Barbour recently decided not to run, it meant that Daniels was getting ready to enter.
Judging by the comments, the mild-mannered Daniels excites a lot of controversy. I know a number of Hoosiers who think his claim to be a conservative is deeply suspect, while other critics point out that he was President George W. Bush’s budget director during the time when the U.S. went from budget surplus to very large deficits, as though the nation’s budget director actually has plenipotentiary powers to hold back recessions, terrorist attacks, and Congressional spending that actually drive the budget. This particular criticism is like blaming your accountant for the fact that the tax code hits you with a big tab on April 15. More likely this complaint is a proxy for the lingering conservative unhappiness over the fiscal wreck of the Bush years (which in retrospect is a mere fender-bender compared to Obama’s plane crash of a spending record). A number of commenters also brought up the fact that Daniels was busted on a marijuana charge in his student days at Princeton.
I concentrated mostly on Daniels personal story that has begun getting more attention, namely, how he and his wife slit up in the early 1990s, and then got back together again. Solid Oprah territory. But also something that can and will be used against him in various ways. Today Erin McPike of RealClearPolitics (and by the way, RCP is increasingly moving beyond just being an aggregator to being a serious original political news outlet) offers a longer look at Daniels and some of these issues.
Aside from all of the personal and political issues that will be weighed, one thing recommends Daniels: he doesn’t want to do it. “What sane person would?”, he has said. Politicians are all slightly psychopathic, and most more than slightly vain. Daniels by personality might actually be more like Calvin Coolidge–someone who doesn’t want the constant spotlight, who doesn’t want to be in our faces every day. His wife won’t be telling us to eat our vegetables. In other words, he’s the one person I can imagine conducting the presidency more like the way the Founders intended it, and not as most modern presidents have done in our mass media age.
Maybe that model can’t or shouldn’t be brought back. Perhaps we need a president capable of a daily, sustained public argument about how our government needs radical reform (that would be someone like Paul Ryan, as I’ve argued here before, or Gov. Chris Christie). But having Daniels in the field at least offers the potential for Republican voters to ponder an alternative mode of doing presidential politics.