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Mitch Daniels Stirs VP Buzz With New Book

Mitch Daniels Stirs VP Buzz With New Book

By Erin McPike - September 19, 2011


Mitch Daniels isn't running for president, but his new book ends with a policy platform that would befit him if he were.

"Keeping the Republic: Saving America by Trusting Americans" is being released Tuesday, and the governor of Indiana concludes it with a chapter titled "Change That Believes in You" -- 38 pages that would amount to a blueprint for his campaign had he waged one. The chapter title is a slogan he uttered multiple times earlier this year while pondering a run for president, and it morphs the 2008 Obama campaign’s “Change You Can Believe In” into a Republicanized version that alludes to personal responsibility.

The Pennsylvania native toyed with a presidential bid for more than a year, and the Hamlet act accomplished exactly what he wanted -- it kept him and his ideas for improving the U.S. government and economy in the national conversation. With his new book, Daniels clearly intends to stay in the spotlight to shape the GOP’s approach to economic reforms; renewed buzz that he might accept being the vice presidential nominee will help him do that.

So what does he want Washington to do as it recalibrates its fiscal policy?

First, Daniels writes, politicians need to junk the word “entitlements.” Entitlement programs are the first things the Indiana Republican says need fixing, but the word is no good because “A free American is not ‘entitled’ to anything except the liberty to make of his life what he can and will.”

In overhauling Social Security and Medicare, he suggests that the place to start is means testing.

By making that point, Daniels is offering a political proposition. Even though Social Security reform failed to pass a Republican-controlled House and Senate in 2005 due largely to a GOP push for privatization, the party’s presidential candidates have not stopped making personal accounts the centerpiece of their proposals. But by suggesting that means testing should come first, Daniels is trying to reframe the discussion and engage some Democrats.

And right in time for the debate over President Obama’s call for a minimum tax rate on millionaires, Daniels has a line that ties into means testing: “President Obama is fond of thundering, ‘Warren Buffett doesn’t need a tax cut!’ No, Mr. President, and he doesn’t need a Social Security check, either.”

On spending and budgets, Daniels writes that there are no sacred cows, and that includes defense. Republicans are facing an identity crisis over defense spending and foreign policy, with some establishment Republicans suggesting the time has come to strip costs from the Pentagon and others standing firm that a strong, untouchable defense allocation is the top priority of the federal government. In making his case, Daniels notes that the country “is borrowing the entire defense budget two times over and facing debts that could quickly bankrupt us.”

The two-term governor also takes on restructuring the tax code and floats Milton Friedman’s “negative income tax” -- by which those earning below a certain level receive payment from the government -- as a model. He also makes the case for limited regulation -- in a way that suggests he aligns with Mitt Romney.

And like Jon Huntsman has been saying on the campaign trail -- that the country is in need of a second Industrial Revolution -- Daniels suggests that Reconstruction is the time to which Americans should look for inspiration.

Daniels is on a media blitz this week to promote the book, with stops in New York and Washington and myriad national TV appearances. To CBS’s Norah O’Donnell this weekend, he reiterated that his decision not to launch a presidential campaign was a family affair. “There is one sentence to which a father has no reply, which is, ‘Daddy, please don’t,’ ” Daniels said.

In that interview he also acknowledged that he wasn’t opposed to being on the ballot next year as the Republican nominee’s running mate.

“I always say that one day the phone rings [and] something that seems interesting, useful is on the other end,” he said in the interview, touching on the VP prospect. “I don’t rule anything out, I suppose.”

Daniels’ most active cheerleaders have not quieted their hopes that he be considered, and the Indiana GOP has been busy hosting the presidential candidates at Indianapolis forums, where Romney is scheduled to appear Friday.

Just last month, however, he appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and refused to discuss the veepstakes. 

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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