Indiana's Mitch Daniels 'open' to a White House run
By Dan Balz
Add one more name to the list of possible 2012 Republican candidates for president: Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Two months ago, in an interview in his state capitol office, Daniels said explicitly he was not interested in running for president and dismissed speculation that he might be a candidate. That has now changed. During an interview at the winter meeting of the National Governors Association here over the weekend, Daniels said he has now been persuaded to keep open the door to a possible candidacy.
Daniels said he has had a number of conversations in recent months -- "none initiated by me" -- where the question of a 2012 campaign came up. "Just to get them off my back, I agreed to a number of people that I will now stay open to the idea," he said.
Among the people he has talked with is former president George W. Bush, though Daniels said it was not that conversation per se that tipped him to reopen a door he had seemingly closed.
Daniels served as Bush's director of the Office of Management and Budget before returning to Indiana to run for office and was White House political director under former president Ronald Reagan. He won a landslide reelection victory in 2008 at the same time that President Obama was carrying Indiana in the presidential race.
Early in his tenure as governor, Daniels angered conservatives when he proposed raising taxes to help balance the state budget. Since then, however, he has become a favorite of fiscal hawks for the way he has run his state. Though conservative on social issues, Daniels has not made them a focal point of his political agenda.
In the aftermath of the party's defeats in 2006 and 2008, Daniels was critical of the Republican Party for having abandoned its principles. He warned that Republicans would have to "spend time in the penalty box" and earn back the public's trust before they would be returned to power. He also warned against complacency in the battle for ideas.
Daniels joins a growing list of possible 2012 candidates for the GOP nomination. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty are active in their preliminary preparations. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour continues to decline to close the door, while playing down the probability that he will run. Speculation about former Alaska governor Sarah Palin bubbles along at a feverish pace.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich has said he will decide after the November elections. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee says he is happy as a television host but remains a possible contender. South Dakota Sen. John Thune may be the next to receive what one GOP operative called a microburst of publicity if he begins to take affirmative steps toward exploring a candidacy. Other potential candidates may emerge through the elections in 2010.
Daniels said Sunday that he is not taking any preliminary steps, and instead would spend the next year focused on the problems of his state.
"I've got my hands full, trying to keep things glued together and take care of people who are sideswiped here, do the most essential things in state government, keep ourselves fiscally above water," Daniels said. "Two, I've got some major goals [and] there's a real chance of achieving in this job."
He said he would need "a friendly legislature" to accomplish his goals, and said that seemed possible given the more favorable climate for Republicans in this year's elections.
"From now to a year-plus from now, that's all I'm going to do," he said. "And if these people are still around, and still not fully satisfied with the field, and if I don't see anybody who's raising what I think of as the survival issues for the country, I guess I'd listen, if it's not too late, which it might well be. I've told people if it's too late, so be it."
Two months ago, saying "we're going to have to have some grown-up conversations in this country," Daniels alluded to the survival issues that he believes need to be raised by some presidential candidate in the future: debt and deficits, and the size and role of government.
On fiscal matters, he said, "It is one thing for people to say, 'oh my gosh, this is unaffordable -- these deficits, these entitlements, these unfounded liabilities. We're going to hand our children' -- and we are -- 'a horrible, unpayable burden.' It will be another when people find out exactly what it would take to prevent that."
Daniels said it's possible the fiscal crisis has reached a tipping point. He described the growth of government as another potential tipping point in the political life of the United States.
"Are we still a country where people would prefer freedom, personal autonomy, with the risks and responsibilities that go with it, or do we want to socialize all the risks we can and settle for what I think is the false security of statism and so forth?" he asked. "I think those questions have got to be presented by somebody."
Daniels acknowledged that the solutions to the problems of debt and deficits could involve sacrifices that would make the messenger unpopular. He admitted that making those problems the focal point of a Republican campaign could impede a potential comeback by the party. But he said he has become convinced that the issues will have to be raised in any case.
Whether that will lead him to run for president in 2012 is very much an open question. Daniels still sounds like a reluctant entry. But in acknowledging that he has moved off his once-staunch opposition to running, he may find a forum to talk about some of those survival issues he thinks need raising.
February 22, 2010; 11:41 AM ET
Categories: Dan Balz's Take , Republican Party
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