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Posted at 9:02 AM ET, 02/13/2011

Does Mitch Daniels want to be president?

By Jennifer Rubin

Gov. Mitch Daniels had CPAC's dinner speaking slot on Friday. With an introduction by George Will, he certainly proved himself to be a serious economic wonk. But he did little to remove doubts about his electability and his desire to be president.

He seemed indifferent to the flap about his support for and then retreat from a "truce" on social issues. He didn't mention it at all. He sounded a bit Ron-Paulish in his eagerness to cut defense. He declared:

In this room, we all know how hard the answers are, how much change is required.

And that means nothing, not even the first and most important mission of government, our national defense, can get a free pass. I served in two administrations that practiced and validated the policy of peace through strength. It has served America and the world with irrefutable success. But if our nation goes over a financial Niagara, we won't have much strength and, eventually, we won't have peace. We are currently borrowing the entire defense budget from foreign investors. Within a few years, we will be spending more on interest payments than on national security. That is not, as our military friends say, a "robust strategy."

And in fact, by labeling the deficit the "Red Menace" he may have reinforced the impression that the former OMB director is passionate about one thing only: balancing the books. In other words, he didn't seem like a man preparing a complete agenda for a presidential run.

Or perhaps he's one of those candidates -- the un-Romney -- who is oblivious to or contemptuous of the agenda and sensibility of voters. The base wants to hear him "check the box" on social issues; he thinks that's irrelevant. The base loves Rush Limbaugh; he goes out of his way to tell them they need the non-Rush crowd. The base is pretty much fed up with being lectured to about civility; he sounds like the No Labels dream candidate in touting civility (almost an anti-conservative buzzword at this point). The base wants committed conservatives; he warns against the danger of ideological purity. In fact some might be put off by the analogy to terrorists: "Purity in martyrdom is for suicide bombers." Yowser. And this sounded like a man already willing to negotiate tax increases with the Democrats:

Change of the dimension we need requires a coalition of a dimension no one has recently assembled. And, unless you disbelieve what the arithmetic of disaster is telling us, time is very short.

Here I wish to be very plainspoken: It is up to us to show, specifically, the best way back to greatness, and to argue for it with all the passion of our patriotism. But, should the best way be blocked, while the enemy draws nearer, then someone will need to find the second best way. Or the third, because the nation's survival requires it.

The speech played well with wonkish Beltway pundits and libertarians who can't bring themselves to take Ron Paul seriously. But is he the latest Fred Thompson, a dreamy fiscal conservative who can't be bothered to vigorously contest for the nomination? Moreover, with world crises constantly intruding he runs the risk of appearing, as Obama often does, uninterested in or wary of devoting attention to anything but his domestic priorities. (Unlike every other candidate, he laid out no national security vision.)

In the speeches that preceded him on Friday, one could see, to one degree or another, each candidate try to set up the justification for his run. Daniels didn't do that; in fact he gave a rather apolitical speech. That's either a clever political tactic or a sign he's not willing to do what it takes to capture the presidency. We'll find out which it is in the weeks ahead.

By Jennifer Rubin  | February 13, 2011; 9:02 AM ET
Categories:  2012 campaign  
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Next: And what about the rest of the world?

Comments

Seems to me that the GOP has quite a few excellent candidates for Vice-President.

Posted by: IsraelP | February 13, 2011 9:23 AM | Report abuse

"by labeling the deficit the "Red Menace" he may have reinforced the impression that the former OMB director is passionate about one thing only: balancing the books. In other words, he didn't seem like a man preparing a complete agenda for a presidential run"

Balancing the books is THE only issue. People can and will debate the appropriate role of the federal government, but how can the government enact any legitimate exercise of federal power while we are out of money? The deficit issue effects every piece of our nations domestic agenda, so the issue is not just simply balancing the federal ledger, it is about where the scope of Federal power ends and how does the Federal government meet those responsibilities as effectively and efficiently as possible.

If Daniels decides to run, he will get my vote.

Posted by: GoodandWelfare | February 13, 2011 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Dead Man Walking. He doesn't have a prayer of being the nominee. Not a prayer.

Posted by: gord2 | February 13, 2011 11:19 AM | Report abuse

I actually watched the speech and thought it very good. I don't want someone to pin my hopes to. I don't want soaring rhetoric. I don't want someone who will check off a list. I want a technocrat with a single laser focus on the economy and spending.

Posted by: lewisdapa | February 13, 2011 1:35 PM | Report abuse

"I want a technocrat with a single laser focus on the economy and spending."

Then you don't want a President. As much as I like Daniels, at some point he needs to show what his foreign policy philosophy is, among other things. I agree that the economy and spending (and the dynamic between the two) is the #1 challenge for our country. But Presidents often don't get to choose their agenda or stick to one set of issues. The changes they make are often dictated to them by events, constraints, and politics. I would like to get a sense from Daniels what his overall governing philosophy is. And not just in terms of the DEBT and the proper role of government. I mean his attitude towards compromise, how he weighs difficult choices, and what lines he draws in the sand. Come to think of it, I still need to hear this from all the candidates running, not just Daniels. But the fact that Daniels has mostly stuck to the same topic so far means he's a little bit further behind in formulating a vision for his candidacy.

Posted by: matthat121 | February 13, 2011 1:58 PM | Report abuse

'Is he the latest Fred Thompson, a dreamy fiscal conservative...' you wonder?

I am one fiscal AND social conservative who agrees 100% with the sentiments of Gov Daniels. For you to suggest that he is some 'dreamer' is to ignore reality!

He is the leader with an unmatched record of accomplishment among the would be candidates. He doesn't just talk the talk, he has actually done many of things in Indiana that he says need to be done in DC.

And he has done them well!

He ignores 'social issues', you charge!

Well, let me give you my view on the 'social issues'. This battle will only be won through attrition, small bits of progress over the course of years. Winning the hearts of young people, and changing the minds of those on the fence will come through demonstrating that the 'conservative agenda' is right for America. We will not be able to force victory through legislation.

A BIG CONSERVATIVE VICTORY in 2012 and beyond on the fight for more jobs, less government spending, less debt and entitlement reform will end up being a GIANT BOOST for the pro-life and pro-family cause.

It follows that people will follow a PROVEN LEADER to places that other leaders were unable to take them!

The social conservative credentials of Gov Daniels are solid. The difference between him and say a Rick Santorum on the issues goes directly to the heart of that age old question of whether or not a person is able to 'see the forest'.

He is the ONLY candidate who has the TALENT and the COURAGE to see the BIG PICTURE and to talk openly about it.

Posted by: tennisman874 | February 13, 2011 2:01 PM | Report abuse

"...But if our nation goes over a financial Niagara, we won't have much strength and, eventually, we won't have peace. We are currently borrowing the entire defense budget from foreign investors. Within a few years, we will be spending more on interest payments than on national security. ..."

Wow. The truth. Nothing but the truth.
Governor Daniels is the reincarnation of Calvin Coolidge and Harry S. Truman, who understands Dwight Eisenhower.

The CPAC Straw Poll was completed bfore Daniels (or Barbour or Perry) spoke.

Ms. Rubin should stop channelling "the base", and understand that NO Republican can win in 2012 without democrats-turned-independent like me. Any GOP candidate who allows Obama's dems to make 2012 about abortion and gay marriage will lose - the template for that was New York in 2010 - where those faux issues were used to keep the looming fiscal crisis in NY locked in the closet, and cost GOP wins for NY AG and Comptroller.

Might want to read Paul Kennedy's classic "Rise and Fall of Great Powers". Mitch Daniels sure has.

Posted by: K2K2 | February 13, 2011 6:25 PM | Report abuse

"The base wants committed conservatives; he warns against the danger of ideological purity."

What part of "you can't win with the 20% of the vote the base comprises" do you not understand, exactly?

Daniels is absolutely right on this, and if "the base" doesn't wake up and realize it they can blame themselves for waking up to 4 more years of Obama on November 7, 2012.

Posted by: IndypendentIn09 | February 13, 2011 10:09 PM | Report abuse

Excellent comments, tennisman874. ALL of them.

I couldn't agree more, especially about winning on the social issues without legislation. We've been nominating candidates on these issues for how long, exactly, and where has that gotten us (besides BANKRUPT)?

Posted by: IndypendentIn09 | February 13, 2011 10:14 PM | Report abuse

As an R, I want JR to do well and encourage more right leaning opinions on the WP but I can't take her seriously. If one watched all of the CPAC speeches (as I did), you could not help but notice how Daniels was playing on a higher level than others. Instead of complimenting him on the speech because it reached out to Tea Partiers and their concern for the debt, he is dinged for not checking the boxes like other speakers at the conference. And he did not lecture about civility for civility's sake, he explained why it is needed to get stuff done (and has a conservative record to prove it). Comparing him to Fred Thompson is really where Jen lost me. If she can't see the difference between what a Thompson campaign looked like and what Daniels would do, she is not all that bright. Sorry, Jen, but do better!

Posted by: buster5 | February 13, 2011 10:44 PM | Report abuse

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