Mitch Daniels And The 2012 Wheels

Andrew Ferguson at The Weekly Standard:

When Mitch Daniels ran for governor of Indiana in 2004, a friend and videographer got the idea of filming the candidate in vidéo vérité style as he traveled around the state in his Indiana-made RV. In both his campaigns for governor—in 2004, when he won a close race, and in 2008, when he won reelection against the Obama tide in an 18-point landslide—Daniels visited each of Indiana’s 92 counties at least three times, appearing in places that hadn’t seen a statewide candidate in generations, or ever. If he wasn’t riding the RV, he came to town on his custom-built Harley Davidson, a solitary aide trailing behind.

He insisted on spending every night on the road in the home of a local family. Nearly all the families were strangers to him. He slept in guest rooms, family rooms, dens, and children’s bedrooms, on bunks and foldout couches, with pictures of pop stars staring from the walls and an occasional Disney mobile dangling overhead, proving to the people of his state that he could sleep anywhere. He was bit by a pig and, later, a farm dog. For his website he wrote a day-by-day account of the places he went and people he met. He paid special attention to the quality of pork tenderloin sandwiches he found in the local bars and diners. Pork tenderloin sandwiches, the size of a platter, are unavoidable in Indiana, no matter how hard you try, and Daniels made it clear he didn’t want to try. Food became a theme of the campaign. The best dessert he’d discovered, he said, was a Snickers Bar dunked in pancake batter and, this being Indiana, deep-fried.

All of this was the stuff of what became MitchTV. Daniels said he was skeptical of having his every move placed under the eye of a crew with a handheld camera and a boom mike. The first line of the first episode is: “The first thing you need to know about this is, it was not my idea.” But it was a good idea. The campaign edited the video down to half-hour episodes every week and bought time in nearly every TV market in the state, on Saturday nights, Sunday mornings, and Sunday evenings. A typical episode received a five or six share, a rating that shocked everybody and translated into tens of thousands of regular viewers.

I was alerted to MitchTV by a politically connected friend. Most of the episodes are available on YouTube. The shows are bizarrely compelling, as if D.A. Pennebaker had been let loose on the set of Hee Haw. The Hoosiers themselves​​—grizzled old farmers, bikers with attitude, housewives in floral prints, chubby kids in too-tight T-shirts—are part of the attraction. They are alternately delighted, disbelieving, and annoyed to find a well-known politician in their midst. The action, if that’s the word, plays out in county fairs and barn auctions and meetings of the chamber of commerce, against the woebegone beauty of small towns slowly sinking back into the Indiana prairie.

What ties the episodes together, of course, is the presence of Daniels. His telegenic appeal is highly unlikely. He’s 5′7″. His pale coloring is set off by his reddish gray hair, and the day is fast approaching when the combover will no longer be able to work its magic. He favors pressed sport shirts and sharply creased Dockers, public-golf-course casual. His accent is hard to place. He calls it “hillbilly hybrid,” a term he coined to describe what happens when the rounded tones of Tennessee and Georgia, where he lived as a boy, are stomped flat as a griddle by the adenoidal twang of Central Indiana, where he’s lived, off and on, since he was ten. He has a fine sense of humor—after their dog bit him he told the family he was off to a diner for his new favorite breakfast, “two eggs over easy, biscuits and gravy, and a tetanus shot”—but his manner is just awkward enough to make you wonder, when you talk to him, if you’re making him nervous.

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

Daniels is in Washington this week doing interviews and meeting with groups like the Business Roundtable. This morning, he met with a group of mostly conservative new-media and print journalists. He proved both impressive and problematic for conservatives seeking a favorite in the 2012 race.

On the positive side, he is plainly not Obama. He is precise, self-effacing, down to earth, and rooted in conservative philosophy. The first question was about education, and, out of the box, he acknowledged that education was “one of the shortcomings of our administration,” and although he has made limited progress, he wants to step up his efforts in the remainder of his term. He then went on to discuss the substantial reforms he has made with the help of a new superintendent (ending social promotion, insulating teachers from lawsuits if they enforce discipline, opening up credentials so people who have had other careers can get into the classrooms, etc.). What he conveyed was both candor and a big-picture view (”Public education has evolved into a situation . . . where it is set up as much for the benefit of the adults as for the kids.”)

He also explained his effort to tame public-employees’ unions, pointing out that teachers in his state are paid 22 percent more than the average worker and that he needed to bring the union to heel if “we were going to overhaul government.” By executive order, he ended mandatory union dues, and 90 percent of the employee chose not to pay. (”They gave themselves a 2 percent pay increase.”) But he is not anti-union by any means. He explained that the playing field should be level, and workers should have the choice to unionize. He said the right to join a union is “fundamental” and has “led to freedom in a lot of countries.”

He was at his best when discussing political theory and domestic policy. Asked what conservatives he looks to for guidance, he listed Hayek, Friedman, and Charles Murray. All of them, he explained, “are realistic and therefore modest in what government is capable of doing.” He continued that they evince “skepticism of bigness — in all its forms.” When I asked him what the principle errors of Obama and Congress had been, he began by pointing out that most of them “have not spent a day in a profit-making enterprise.” He explained that the choice between political parties is the clearest we’ve ever had. Conservatives believe, he said, that public service is a temporary job and that their duty is “to promote free enterprise, family, and other intermediary institutions.” Democrats believe the opposite, he said — that society will work better “if the ‘enlightened’” make the decisions.

He explained: “I’m concerned. I’m alarmed about the direction of the country.” Even apart from the theoretical argument, he observed that looking at entitlements and the debt, “Can we all agree the arithmetic doesn’t work?” But he said he is interested in the bigger philosophical questions: “What kind of people do we want to be?” Are we still capable of preserving liberty and independence?

About entitlements and the debt, he said he has faith that we can have a “grown-up” conversation. He then proceeded to have one. “Americans,” he asserted, “have a renewed sense of the menace of too much debt.” In their personal lives, with credit-card and mortgage debt, he notes that “they had a searing personal experience.” What to do about entitlements? “Paul Ryan is right — we need to bifurcate these programs.” He said that Democrats would have been best suited to do the hard work, given the negative rhetoric hurled at Republicans when they undertake entitlements control, but he said that is a “lost opportunity. Someone’s got to try.” He continued: “Why should we pay for Warren Buffet’s health care? Why should be pay Bill Gates a pension?” Like businesses that have phased out defined-benefit plans, he recommended that we have “a new plan and an old plan.” And he wasn’t shy about criticizing Republicans for grandstanding on Medicare cuts during the health-care debate.

He explained: “None of this will work if we don’t have a sustained period of growth.” Unfortunately, he said, “Everything they are doing as far as I can see leans against economic growth.” And he pointed to his own job-creation record. Indiana has 2 percent of the population and 7 percent of the new jobs. He has made sure “the next job comes to Indiana and not someplace else.”

He also showed a knack for political message. He questioned “what the hell” did “change you can believe in.” He suggested that the conservatives’ motto should be “Change that believes in you,” stressing that Americans are “fully capable” of running their own lives, buying their own health-care insurance, etc.

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard:

Mitch Daniels told THE WEEKLY STANDARD’s Andy Ferguson that the next president “would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues. We’re going to just have to agree to get along for a little while,” until economic issues are resolved.

This morning, at the Heritage Foundation, I asked Daniels if that meant the next president shouldn’t push issues like stopping taxpayer funding of abortion in Obamacare or reinstating the Mexico City Policy banning federal funds to overseas groups that perform abortions. Daniels replied that we face a “genuine national emergency” regarding the budget and that “maybe these things could be set aside for a while. But this doesn’t mean anybody abandons their position at all. Everybody just stands down for a little while, while we try to save the republic.”

To clarify whether Daniels simply wants to de-emphasize these issues or actually not act on them, I asked if, as presdient, he would issue an executive order to reinstate Reagan’s “Mexico City Policy” his first week in office. (Obama revoked the policy during his first week in office.) Daniels replied, “I don’t know.”

More McCormack

Joseph Lawler at The American Spectator:

Is it a winning strategy to put the so-called social issues on the back burner? Thinking in terms of what a “truce” on social issues would like like substantively, it’s not obvious how Daniels’s truce would differ from past Republicans’ policies. What exactly did Bush do on the social issues that President Daniels would have to forgo?

If Daniels’s strategy is a widely palatable campaign platform aimed at bringing on board disaffected and economic issue voters, the question is how much of a trade-off would social conservatives have to make to vote for him. What typical Republican policies would he have to suspend and they have to sacrifice? It’s not clear to me that it would be anything more than simply the usual social conservative rhetoric. He might not have to do more than what he’s already started doing, which is merely playing down the importance of social issues and telling liberals that we “just have to agree to get along for a little while.”

If that trade-off would allow for a coalition that would elect president that would actually cut spending — and that’s a big if — then it’s one social conservatives should definitely be willing to make.

More Lawler

Philip Klein at AmSpec

Ramesh Ponnuru at The Corner:

Truces are usually popular, and most people see the economic issues as more important than the social ones at this moment. But I’m not sure how a truce would work. If Justice Kennedy retired on President Daniels’s watch, for example, he would have to pick someone as a replacement. End of truce.

I also can’t help but think of Phil Gramm’s presidential campaign in 1996. Like Daniels, Gramm was an enthusiastic budget-cutter. Concern about big government was running strong in the years just prior to that election. Gramm had a solid social-conservative record, but consciously chose not to campaign on it; he famously flew out to Colorado Springs to tell James Dobson, “I’m not a preacher.” That approach helped to doom Gramm’s campaign.

Daniels, presumably, won’t be trying to unite conservatives against the party establishment’s candidate, as Gramm was, and so these issues will play out differently next time. But I am not at all sure that the party’s grassroots will be less interested insocial issues in 2012 than it was in 1996.

Mike Huckabee:

Apparently, a 2012 Republican presidential prospect in an interview with a reporter has made the suggestion that the next President should call for a “truce” on social issues like abortion and traditional marriage to focus on fiscal problems.
In other words, stop fighting to end abortion and don’t make protecting traditional marriage a priority.
Let me be clear though, the issue of life and traditional marriage are not bargaining chips nor are they political issues. They are moral issues. I didn’t get involved in politics just to lower taxes and cut spending though I believe in both and have done it as a Governor. But I want to stay true to the basic premises of our civilization.

Matthew Sheffield at The Washington Examiner:

With tea partiers rallying against government debt and faith in government’s abilities to achieve the basic, let alone the moon we were promised two years ago, 2012 seems awfully convenient for the likes of Mitch Daniels, the affable skinflint governor of Indiana.

At a presser for bloggers held this morning at the Heritage Foundation, Daniels held forth on a number of national issues. While he didn’t say outright that he is running to replace Obama, the formerly Shermanesque denials that he might do so have been replaced with much more flirtatious language.

Part of that might be simply Daniels taking the advice of former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich who is quoted by the Hoosier in a must-read profile by Andrew Ferguson in the Weekly Standard that “keeping the door open” gives a state politician a lot more national press attention than he’d otherwise receive.

That can’t be entirely it, however, because, as mentioned above, things seem almost made for a Daniels run, not just in terms of current events, but also in terms of his persona.

In the midst of a recession, mountains of state and federal debt and worldwide financial crisis, running on a platform of “humility” toward government (Daniels’ term) contra Obama is a bit of a no-brainer, however, Daniels also seems to have learned one thing few GOP politicians have: being able to think quickly on his feet in response to uncomfortable questions.

He’s had a lot of practice at that crisscrossing Indiana’s 92 counties multiple times, eagerly interacting with fellow Hoosiers. That’s great for someone wanting to run for president. It’s also given him an ability to overcome the “unfortunate stereotype” of Republicans that they don’t care about the average person.

In that sense, Daniels is a bit of an anti-Bush, he’s also that way in that the former Office of Management and Budget director has no fear of tangling with the bureaucracy at their own game of spreadsheets and inventory audits

Ross Douthat:

There are scores of interesting nuggets about the 2012 dark horse scattered throughout Andy Ferguson’s profile of Indiana’s governor, but for a press corps that’s struggling to believe in love in the wake of the Gore break-up, I suspect that this one will have the most appeal:

[Daniels] and his wife Cheri divorced in 1994. She moved to California, leaving Daniels with the four daughters, aged 8 to 14, and married a doctor. She divorced again and moved back to Indiana. She and Mitch remarried in 1997.

Cheri has never spoken about this publicly, and from what I can tell it’s been mentioned in print only twice. Daniels’s only comment was to the Indianapolis Star in 2004: “If you like happy endings, you’ll love our story.”

Ferguson doesn’t say so, but I’m guessing that two of those Daniels daughters were mischievous identical twins ….

For those of us who have labored long and hard in the fight to educate the Democrats, voters, the media and even some Republicans on the importance of strong families, traditional marriage and life to our society, this is absolutely heartbreaking. And that one of our Republican “leaders” would suggest this truce, even more so. Governor Daniels is a personal friend and a terrific Governor, and I’m very disappointed that he would think that pro-life and pro-family activists would just lie down.
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1 Comment

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One response to “Mitch Daniels And The 2012 Wheels

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