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Posted at 2:30 PM ET, 03/10/2011

Daniels not backing off social 'truce' comments

By Aaron Blake

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels isn't backing down from his suggestion that Republicans declare a "truce" on social issues.

In a new interview for the online television program "Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson", Daniels expands on the idea he first laid out in a profile for the Weekly Standard that economic issues -- and the debt in particular -- should take precedence over social issues.

"If you don't believe that the American public is mortally threatened -- as I do -- by this one overriding problem we have built for ourselves, then of course I'm wrong," Daniels told Robinson in an excerpt of the interview, which is set to air on Monday. "All I was saying was, we're going to need to unify all kinds of people, and we're going -- freedom is going -- to need every friend it can get."

Daniels also addressed some concerns from conservatives over his call for cuts in the defense budget.

In his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference last month, Daniels said not even such a sacred program as defense should "get a free pass" from the looming cuts -- in the process becoming one of relatively few big-name Republicans to push for a look at defense spending.

In the interview on the program, which is done in affiliation with Stanford University's Hoover Institution, Daniels noted that he served in two Republican administrations -- George W. Bush's and Ronald Reagan's -- that had a policy of peace through military strength, and he said it worked.

But times have changed, added Daniels. "We have not been in this bind before. We have not been as broke as we are or are about to be," Daniels said. "And it is absolutely inevitable, if we do not tackle the deficit and debt problems, defense will get strangled anyway. I said, if we don't get on top of this, we'll have a lot less strength and, eventually, we may not have peace."

The interview is unlikely to tamp down concern among social conservatives and defense hawks -- both large contingents in a Republican primary -- that Daniels might not be on their side heading into a potential 2012 GOP presidential bid.

At the same time, a recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll showed that many Republicans agreed with Daniels's "truce," and few said they would be less likely to vote for him.

While building a strong reputation as a fiscal conservative and a crusading governor even before the Chris Christies and the Scott Walkers came along, Daniels appears to be developing some problems with his right flank even before he announces his campaign.

His issues with the right were also on display recently when he declined to support a bill that would strip collective bargaining rights for private sector employees, saying it was not the time for the issue.

As in that case, his more recent comments -- and his subsequent refusal to back down from them -- will continue to trail him in the months ahead. If, in that time, he begins to hedge on the now-infamous "truce" and/or other issues, it should be taken as a sign that he's leaning toward running.

For now, his words in this interview suggest he's not ready to choose the politically expedient path or even provide lip service to his conservative critics. And that may mean he is staying on the presidential sidelines.

By Aaron Blake  | March 10, 2011; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2012  
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