Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 02/15/2011

Mitch Daniels and the austerity trap

By Jennifer Rubin

Yesterday there was some spirited discussion in the blogosphere and on Twitter about Mitt Romney's performance at CPAC and his prospects in the 2012 presidential primary. The real debate within Republican circles was whether he'd be "deader" if he stood by RomneyCare or if he renounced it. (My own view: he should be worried about being booed at debates and in front of audiences that aren't handpicked if tries touting his health-care plan that helped popularize the individual mandate.)

The debate over Romney was mild, however, compared to the discussion over Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. Unsurprisingly, talk show host and conservative idol Rush Limbaugh went after Daniels, not merely for suggesting the talk show audience was insufficient to win the presidency, but from departing from the well-rounded version of conservatism championed by Ronald Reagan. Limbaugh put it this way on his show:

What was missing I thought from the CPAC convention just as a theme is what has been occurring the last few years, this ascendancy of traditional conservatism, the ascendancy of Reagan conservatism. There's no doubt it is happening all across the fruited plain. You didn't get -- at least I didn't get any sense of it, watching CPAC. And don't misunderstand, nobody's looking here, certainly not I, for some magical appearance of a Ronald Reagan, just looking for a conservative that actually embraces conservatism. Not parts of it; not tries to redefine it. I mean clearly there's some people from the era of Reagan is over crowd. Did you ever hear Reagan say, "We got social conservatives here, we got to make sure, yeah, we'll listen to 'em but then we're not gonna pay much attention to 'em." There wasn't this kind of division within the ranks.

What is a conservative candidate? A candidate who supports the Constitution; who supports national security; who supports traditional family values, the basic stuff. And that stuff seemed controversial for parts of CPAC. When a would-be candidate says put aside the social issues, what does this mean? Is the left putting aside the social issues? The left right now, they are in federal court demanding that judges impose an agenda on the nation that was voted down at the ballot box. What do we do in response to that, ignore it? We have a health-care bill here that's unconstitutional, could have been a huge rallying point. Instead, we got the latest ruling-class drumbeat that we put aside the social issues, more important things on the agenda than the social issues right now.

Daniels has not simply emphasized one part of the conservative coalition (advocates of small government); he's gone out of his way to antagonize the others. By talking about a "truce" on social issues and making defense cuts the major feature of any discussion (in public and in meetings with conservative media) he's sending a message that he's willing to sacrifice traditional values and national security for what he considers the ultimate, perhaps only, urgent issue of our time: reestablishing fiscal discipline.

The Weekly Standard'sMatt Continetti back in October saw this syndrome as a danger to conservatives:

What might trip up the GOP? It's not that the public's demands are impossible to meet. It's that belt-tightening all too easily becomes an unhealthy obsession. Numbercrunching is a valuable skill, but it also has a tendency to crimp the political imagination. So Republicans must be careful as they trim expenses. Otherwise they'll fall into the austerity trap.

In the austerity trap, Republican congressmen get so outraged over earmarks to fund studies of the mating patterns of red-bellied newts, they neglect legislation that would foster long-term growth. Deficit anxiety causes conservative lawmakers to rule out sensible policies like a payroll tax cut. A myopic focus on government spending causes Republican leaders to short-change the defense budget and renege on America's global responsibilities. The entitlement nightmare frightens GOP candidates into framing their economic agenda in strictly negative terms.

Daniels appears to have fallen into precisely the trap that Matt described. It is a policy dead-end. ("If you want to defeat the debt without resorting to punishing inflation or punitive tax increases, growth is the only option. . . Austerity, by itself, is not enough. To the contrary: It's a trap.") But it is also a political loser in a Republican primary. Can a candidate win the GOP nomination without broad based support from value voters, hawks and fiscal conservatives? I rather doubt it.

This is not, as some claim, an argument in favor of ideological "purity." To the contrary, it is an admonition that while voters may have a priority on this or that issue, they don't want to have their interests on other matters disregarded. For example in 2008, the primary electorate learned to live with John McCain's stance on immigration reform, one that was at odds with the base. But he had to assure primary voters that in addition to his heroic efforts on national security (e.g. to prevent a defeat in Iraq), he was solid on social issues and fiscal ones as well (many sneered at his about-face on the Bush tax cuts, but he wouldn't have gotten the nomination without it).

Now, Daniels is a smart man, and he's seen many a presidential election. So, perhaps he's not all that serious about running for office, despite the stage whispers about big donors. Maybe he's just using the limelight to make a much needed push for fiscal sobriety. There's nothing alarming or unusual about that. But by the same token he likely limits his effectiveness as a messenger by antagonizing those who would be his natural allies.

His performance at CPAC and the very mixed reaction to it does serve as a warning to other candidates. Fiscal restraint may be the issue upper most in voters' minds, but primary voters are selecting a commander in chief, a party standard bearer and someone who appreciates their values. The winning candidate will need to satisfy the primary electorate to one degree or another on all counts. And they should remember: Limited government was not the end all and be all of modern conservatism. It is a means to greater ends -- freedom, prosperity and civic virtue. Politicians like Daniels who forget that do so at their own peril.

By Jennifer Rubin  | February 15, 2011; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  2012 campaign  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Obama's centrist mask drops
Next: Gary Bauer not pleased with Mitch Daniels


Newt Gingrinch responded to the critical view of Romneycare:

• Romney is firmly committed to repeal of Obamacare
• It’s not accurate or fair to compare Obamacare and Romneycare
• Romney vetoed many provisions of the Mass bill and Romney was overridden by Democrats
• The original Romney bill was better and practical than what the liberal Democrats did to it
• The Democrats overrode Romney’s original bill on a whole series of items
• The issue is not as clear cut as Tea Partiers think or the liberal media has made the issue out to be

Conservative Think-tank = the Heritage Foundation responded to Romneycare:

– Heritage On Romney’s Individual Mandate: “Not an unreasonable position, and one that is clearly consistent with conservative values.” [Heritage, 1/28/06]

– Heritage On Romney’s Insurance Exchange: An “innovative mechanism to promote real consumer choice.” [Heritage, 4/20/06]

– Heritage On Romney’s Medicaid Expansion: Reduced “the total cost to taxpayers” by taking people out of the “uncompensated care pool.” [Heritage, 1/28/06]

Romney's accomplishments:
* Earned over 260 million in the private sector - 25 years
* Took 2002 Utah Winter Olympics’ 300 million deficit and turned it into a 100 million dollar surplus - the most successful games on record.
* Took Massachusetts 1.5 BILLION dollar deficit and turned it into a 600 million dollar surplus withOUT raising income and other taxes (he did raise some "fees" on other services - about 2 million worth.)

What have other republican candidates done?

Posted by: tommyh9999yahoocom | February 15, 2011 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I have some concerns about Romney but if he wins the bruising primary battle he'll get my full, unstinting support.

Please note that my concerns have nothing to do with his faith. Having lived in mormon dominated communities in my life I have absolutely no problem with it. None. The communities I lived in were safe, prosperous and respectful of others. I honestly don't know what more one could ask.

Still Romney comes across, to me, as somewhat "manufactured" sort of like "justin Beeber does politics". But we'll see.

I think Mr Daniels makes a big error in taking this stance. Last week on Hugh Hewitt's show another conservative wannabe, Rick Santorum went off on the whole social issues schtick. Basically Mr Santorum stated that our failure to adhere to conservative social principles, such as functioning families and self reliance has led to the costly welfare state we can no longer afford.

I have problems with MR Santorum too, BTW. He's a guest host on Bill Bennett's morning in America on Fridays. Often I find him to be very much a DC inside baseball player and I worry that such a person would simply go back to politics as usual.

We'll see.

Posted by: skipsailing28 | February 15, 2011 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Honestly, I get the feeling that you dont like Mitch Daniels. I think conservatives will be making a huge mistake by continuing to criticize him.

I actually support his comments about a truce. He is not saying that he is for gay marriage or such things. The message is that conservatives should go beyond just being against liberal social views.

The mistake conservatives have made of recent is that they have criticized liberal social agenda without sufficiently providing an alternative.

The fact is that for a conservative to win the election, he needs the support of independents who do not fully agree with his views. And that is what he is proposing by a truce.

Posted by: donne4real | February 15, 2011 11:44 AM | Report abuse

The Silver Spoon Republicans like our friend Jennifer are privately more concerned about those ill-fitting, cheap suits Mitch Daniels wears than they are about his social policies. If he's so saleable politically why hasn't he made a fortune on K Street?

Posted by: Lazarus40 | February 15, 2011 11:58 AM | Report abuse

I agree that growth-oriented policies, such as tax reform and deregulation, are essential, but cutting spending is paramount. Mitch Daniels and other Republicans need to explain to the immature voters who fell for the "hope and change" BS that they are the big losers from Obama's reckless spending. They will pay higher taxes to service the skyrocketing debt and the inevitable higher interest rates as our credit deteriorates. They will have to pay for the spendthrift baby boomers' retirement entitlements. They're the suckers in this story.

Posted by: eoniii | February 15, 2011 12:02 PM | Report abuse

I agree with 'donne4real' commenting that it appears you really don't like Daniels.

I think if the conservative movement follows voices like yours and others that say, in essence, that a candidate must be 'ideologically pure', we may win an election, but we will be kicked out of office as quickly as we get in because we will have failed to stop the 'train-wreck' that is heading our way.

Daniels is right, take care of what is most pressing, the economic and financial CRISIS that is heading our way. The changes that need to be made are BIG CHANGES. To do that, a president must have MORE THAN A 50 + 1 MAJORITY. We will need the support of independents, moderate democrats and others who are not that concerned about social issues! Daniels gets it, he sees 'the forest'. People like you only see a bunch of trees!


Defense spending needs a haircut, just like everything else that comes out of DC.

Social issues move to the tune of a different drummer! Gentle persuasion, winning the hearts and minds of Americans is the winning formula here.

A president Daniels, if he is able to turn the 'train wreck' around, will have won the hearts and minds of the people, and will be able to lead them gently in the right direction on social policy.

His record of accomplishment in Indiana is simply quite astounding! And he is about to get a lot more done in the 2011 Legislative session. He is the BEST GOVERNOR IN THE COUNTRY!

A serious man, with serious idea.

Posted by: tennisman874 | February 15, 2011 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Daniels has the right idea about the economy. But being President includes being Commander in Chief. Let's hear what his foreign policy beliefs are before we eliminate him as a choice.

Or maybe he can take Geithner's place in a new Republican administration.

Posted by: jay22 | February 15, 2011 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Jen, all Americans have "values".

Posted by: jckdoors | February 15, 2011 12:41 PM | Report abuse

I think the best way to handle the "social issues" situation for conservatives is to press to remove it from federal purview and let the states decide on their own what they want. More over, to do it preferably through the ballot box rather than legislation. If the VT voters want to have gay marriage, let them. If TX voters don't want abortion, then so be it.

In my opinion, this would be an ideal way to handle "social issues" politically. Conservatives would love these issues to go to the states. That way a federal court ruling (Roe v Wade) wouldn't tell the whole country what it's going to have to tolerate.

Independents would love this too since it removes the perception that social conservatives are trying to tell them how to live their lives. What Independent would dislike the prospect of voting via the ballot box for/against gay marriage, for/against abortion, etc...?

Liberals would go apoplectic over this. They would scream bloody murder because they wouldn't be able to use the federal courts to impose their "social issues" ideals upon the rest of us. Better yet, their stance would be indefensible, and the rest of the electorate would shun them for it.

One may argue that the state courts can still overturn something that the voters voted for at the ballot box. True enough, but at least that's courts from 50 different states. There's only 1 federal court system.

As for the holy grail of liberal court cases on social issues - Roe v Wade, the idea is to oppose it not because one is for/against abortion, but that such a decision should not be made by the federal judiciary. It should be made by the states.

If a conservative could successfully frame the "social issues" issue as noted above AND make not just a fiscal argument about taxes, spending and regulation, but a *moral* argument as well, I'd say they'd have a pretty good shot at getting the nomination. The moral argument regarding taxes and spending and regulation being that it's an affront to our *liberty* to have all this govt involvement - it's not merely a fiscal/economic crisis (all Rs running for Prez will make the case for fiscal/economic crisis). Add these two together and also be reasonably sober in regards to foreign policy, and you have a winner I think.

Posted by: RitchieEmmons | February 15, 2011 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Limbaugh's ignorance regarding Reagan's actual policies (instead of the fairy tale land that this blogger seems to occupy 24/7) are well documented:

Posted by: oldabandonedbeachhouse | February 15, 2011 12:56 PM | Report abuse

This isn't about ideological purity at all. It is about understanding the "three legged stool" that is the foundation of conservatism.

Any presidential contender needs to speak to all three general areas of concern: security, social and fiscal.

during the last presidential campaign Mc Cain suggested that it be suspended so that the candidates could return to DC and focus on the financial system's melt down. Obama replied that he could multi task.

so can we. We can confront the issues created by the out of control spending while also working to instill the behavior norms that lead to our greatness, while also using our unique situation in the world to promote free trade and personal freedom.

the right president can do these things. Obama lied because he clearly can't do more than spend money. but a good solid republican candidate can beat him by focusing on all three constantly

Posted by: skipsailing28 | February 15, 2011 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Sorry 'skipsailing28', a president cannot FOCUS on all three. Try 'focusing' on 3 things at the same time! What you wind up with is an unclear vision of each thing you are looking at!

We need a president who can 'focus like a laser', all his attention on derailing the trainwreck heading our way. And he will need the strong support of 60-70% of Americans to move Congress.

Other issues are important, but not as important in the immediate term as 'fiscal and economic' security.

The next president will NOT be able to make abortion illegal during his term. But he might be able to save the republic.

And you are getting this from a strong social conservative.
Pro-Life, Pro-family, Pro-Traditional marriage. I March for Life,
Pray for Life, support Priests for Life financially, and teach about the Sanctity of Life in my religious education classroom.

Skip, you can see are the trees! Gov Daniels is 'seeing the forest'!

Posted by: tennisman874 | February 15, 2011 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Jen I think you're right on the $$$ here. An austerity message that isn't enveloped in a growth and opportunity agenda will go over less well politically and, more importantly, will result in inferior, in part self-defeating policy.

Moreover the side under attack is rarely in a position to call a "truce". The Russians would have loved one in August 1941. The political difficulty with doing so was cogently presented by Bill McGurn in a WSJ Op Ed last week. To be clear, now is certainly not the time for a conservative to be broaching social issues 1st, 2nd or 3rd. Neither is it prudent to bring them up early for the purposes of calling a "truce".

Posted by: cavalier4 | February 15, 2011 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Yes, it is a mistake for Repubs to just talk about smaller government and less spending (just like it has been a mistake for the Dems to be all about bigger government and more spending). Americans want a robust economy that is creating jobs and wealth. That will be measure that determines policy success. Austerity is not a winning stance. The economy booming is.

Posted by: vausa22923 | February 15, 2011 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Not having insurance would just be completely crazy. I am an accountant and in my local area Wise Health Insurance is the best health insurance finder I ever had. Yes my insurance does cover dental and eye insurance which is a big help to my life.

Posted by: kinglaura16 | February 16, 2011 6:05 AM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.

characters remaining

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company