Mitch Daniels, and Why We'll Miss What Might Have Been

Mitch Daniels, and Why We'll Miss What Might Have Been

By Mark Salter - May 24, 2011

In my first column for RCP I urged Mitch Daniels to run for president. I had intended to use this one to regret his decision not to. But after reading the governor's email to his supporters explaining his choice and some of the commentary that followed his announcement, I've decided to express a few other regrets as well.

I am disappointed by his decision, and I'm sorry for the country, too. No other prospective candidate had a record of accomplishment as impressive as his. More importantly, I think Mitch Daniels has personal qualities that Americans yearn for in public leaders even as our political culture impedes them.

Jennifer Rubin, a conservative blogger for the Washington Post and a prolific enthusiast of the disrespect and bombast that characterize much of our politics, had this to say about Daniels after his decision:

"Daniels' pre-campaign effort was odd from the get-go. He antagonized key blocs of the Republican Party, evidenced a tin ear and seemed to take no counsel from anyone."

I don't know where she obtains her authority to speak for "key blocs of the Republican Party." Perhaps blogging is self-credentialing. I do know that there were a great many Republicans, who, if not members of Rubin's circle, were certainly enthusiastic about a Daniels' candidacy. Had he run, I would have wagered on his nomination. More importantly, so would have a pretty wide circle of Republican leaders and financial heavyweights -- who have much greater credibility and resources to wager than I -- as well as grass-roots enthusiasts for Daniels, of whom there are considerably more than Ms. Rubin seems to believe.

I suspect "tin ear" is the attribute she assigns to politicians who seem to speak their minds sincerely. Honesty would be another way to put it. Apparently, Daniels' suspect judgment is apparent in the fact he didn't feel always obliged to heed her counsel with regard to prioritizing the nation's interests that need the most attention. Others might call it common sense.

I take it that Ms. Rubin wasn't pleased when Governor Daniels called for a cease-fire in the culture wars. But he didn't say this in a vacuum; he suggested that the nation's debt crisis should be the first priority of the next Republican president. On that, I'm quite certain Daniels speaks for the majority point of view in the party and the country.

I also believe Daniels would have been our best candidate in the general election. President Obama will not be easily defeated. He will have unprecedented resources at his disposal, a talented and experienced campaign staff, and his exceptional discipline as a campaigner. I'm also pretty certain he will continue to enjoy the advantage of a press corps that puts its finger on the scales for his benefit.

The election will be decided by independents. To my mind, Daniels, more than any other candidate, would be the Republican who most appealed to them, even those hard-to-motivate independents who are not quite completely apathetic but often despair of any politician ever being on the level; independents like my nephew, who described his politics on his Facebook page as "Whatever, just fix it."

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Mark Salter is the former chief of staff to Sen. John McCain and was a senior adviser to the McCain for President campaign.

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