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Mitch Daniels: Republican Revolutionary



Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (AP Photo/Indianapolis Star, Frank Espich )

Mitch Daniels doesn't look like a revolutionary.

Short and balding, he looks exactly like what he was earlier this decade: the head of the Office of Management and Budget in the Bush administration.

The Rising

But, ever since Daniels hopped in a car in 2003 to return to his native Indiana and run for governor, something changed.

Daniels demonstrated a populist knack largely lacking in the national party hierarchy -- he toured the state in an RV, stayed in the homes of Hoosiers rather than at hotels, and even created his own reality TV series known as MitchTV in which he invited a film crew to tape his interactions with the people of the state.

"There is a presumption that Republicans are not connected and not caring about the problems of regular people," said Daniels, sipping on a Budweiser, during a recent interview with the Fix. "We had to establish ourselves."

Two victories later -- the second coming in a year that President Obama carried Indiana --- and Daniels is one of the GOP's few success stories.

Daniels entered the 2008 election as a major Democratic target, the result of several controversial decisions -- including the leasing of the Indiana toll road to a private company and putting Indiana on daylight savings time (not kidding) -- that pulled down his approval ratings among Indiana voters.

But Daniels spent his year-long state tour touting the promises on which he had delivered during his first term. "We are people who do what we say," said Daniels, explaining the underlying strategy of that campaign. In a word? "Authenticity," said Daniels.

And so, in a year where President Obama swept to a 192-electoral-vote victory on the idea of hope and change, Daniels ran on an almost identical platform, painting himself and the Indiana GOP more broadly as the reformers and Democrats as the old guard. "We were the party of purpose," said Daniels.

Voters responded, handing Daniels a second term by a whopping 18 points over former Rep. Jill Long Thompson (D) who struggled to find cracks in the Daniels's armor throughout the race.

What lessons can the national GOP -- still struggling to find its identity and leaders after two devastating elections cycles -- take from what Daniels did?

First, that Republicans must regain the high ground as the party of new ideas. "We need to be conceiving ideas all the time, not just sit there and hold office," said Daniels.

Second, that reflexive partisanship and name-calling rarely brings about those ideas and solutions. Daniels insisted that during his five years in the governor's mansion he has not said the word "Democratic" more than three times and has never uttered the words "liberal" or "conservative."

Third, and this goes to Daniels's populist streak, "use your own words." Daniels staked his political career on convincing voters that he was not a consultant-driven phenomenon -- he wrote his own ads -- nor was he angling for some other office.

For all of Daniels's success, his influence nationally has been somewhat circumscribed. He recounted that he had advocated his approach to politics to other GOP candidates with "no success at all" and his insistence that he will never again run for office -- a pledge he made in his last TV ad of 2008 -- has limited the amount of national face time he both seeks and is offered.

Daniels spoke to the House Republican Conference earlier this year -- at the behest of fellow Hoosier Mike Pence -- and recently penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal opposing the planned cap and trade system being proposed by the Obama administration.

But, for someone with his résumé -- former Bush administration official, two-term midwestern governor -- Daniels doesn't get nearly the amount of attention others in his shoes might.

And, oddly, for a politician, that seems ok with him.

"I am going to stick to Indiana," said Daniels of his political future. "I would like to finish this job and have the people of our state be less cynical than they were before."

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 20, 2009; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  The Rising  
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Comments

Dubya failures generally damn his brother Jeb whom I thought was more capable. The executive is out of the question when the recovery begins and the party of failed ideas, especially Reaganism trickle down, low taxes during a war and less oversight is the way to go. Jindahl had his ten minutes of fame, which leaves Gingrich or Romney as future candidates. The moderates will all win handily, Schwatzneggar, Crist, Snowe and Collins, while too many others will lose backing the obstructionist agenda. Daniels is a breath of fresh air from a tarnished party. I see further gains by the Dems coming in the 2010 elections.

Posted by: jameschirico | May 22, 2009 6:49 PM | Report abuse

Success is raising the standard of living of everyone which has been helped a little along with his initiatives. Ike said it best when a factory does more than a navy ship for America. We have destroyed our manufacturing base in our country and have become mainly consumers in an unsustainable balance of trade made worse by imported high energy consumption. We have the resource, we have the educated populace, what is missing is the leadership to provide goods and services for Americans by Americans. Costa Rico generates over 16% of it's electricity from alternative sources (biomass, solar, wind etc.) whereas we have not even begun to tap this resource. We produce over 78% of our electric energy from thermal fossil fuels. Winds turbines paced at the tops of mountains would exploit that source, while solar in the deep south and deserts has not been exploited. Ideally we can get to structures built with geothermal transfer, wind turbines and solar panels on roofs and eventually the safe nuclear power fusion reactors. We as a country should just do it and print the money as things get built. We should also force 5% of all salaries to be put on an American product and services only bank card. We can become the industrial giant we were in the 20th century by inventing the energy saving technologies which can be marketed worldwide.

Posted by: jameschirico | May 22, 2009 6:31 PM | Report abuse

As the president takes over the middle ground, the GOP is being pushed to the right margin - and convincing itself that moving right is the secret of electoral success. That's why they don't listen to people like Gov Daniels, and is why they will lose, again, in upcoming elections.

==

But they will continue to assure themselves that Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin represent the middle, and that but for the tyranny of "PC" that most Americans (everyone between SF and NYC) are just as nasty and bigoted and hateful as they are.

After all, it worked so well in 2008.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | May 20, 2009 8:51 PM | Report abuse

Over at one of the WaPo chats, there's a discussion with Reihan Salam, co-author of "Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2009/05/19/DI2009051902002.html

I asked him about Gov Daniels's quote, and whether the GOP has lost interest in governing. He said:

"Am I optimistic that the GOP will find a strong candidate for 2012? Well, I think a lot of conservatives are in the grip of identity politics right now: they don't want to be kicked when they're done, they want to be told that they're on the right track. That means that they'll probably get a candidate who will tell them what they want to hear rather than someone who will appeal to the middle, and to voters who went for Obama in 2008. But I could be wrong! Things move fast in US politics."


That's a pretty telling prediction, that "they'll probably get a candidate who will tell them what they want to hear." Of course, I think he's right, because the GOP is stuck in the rut of being anti-Obama and only anti-Obama. As the president takes over the middle ground, the GOP is being pushed to the right margin - and convincing itself that moving right is the secret of electoral success. That's why they don't listen to people like Gov Daniels, and is why they will lose, again, in upcoming elections.

Posted by: bsimon1 | May 20, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Oh, so nobody else IN HIS PARTY is listening to him -- thank you for clarifying that on behalf of "drindl" -- I'm sure she appreciates it.

Posted by: JakeD | May 20, 2009 2:19 PM | Report abuse

The reason that this article is newsworthy is because Gov. Daniels implemented extremely controversial initiatives that, years later, had a positive impact on Indiana's fiscal state of being. There are many elected officials who DON'T have the foresight, the legislative support or the gumption to do these sorts of things. While I am not a big fan of the current crop of GOP rising stars, I believe Gov. Daniel's anti-charismatic, non-ideological and substantive style is a fantastic model for presidential aspirants to follow.

Posted by: Jay20 | May 20, 2009 2:19 PM | Report abuse

By 2010, Chris C. will have mentioned the name of every registered republican.

Posted by: newbeeboy | May 20, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

"So, he "successful" but no one listens to what he says?! Okay."


Do you read the posts at the top of the screen? The Fix wrote "[Gov Daniels] recounted that he had advocated his approach to politics to other GOP candidates with "no success at all.""

Point being: He's one of the few - very few - Republicans enjoying electoral success; but nobody else in his party is listening to him. "What's that Mitch? You don't demonize the opposition? You don't call 'em terrorist sympathizing libruls? I see. Thank's anyway, but I'm not interested."

Posted by: bsimon1 | May 20, 2009 1:55 PM | Report abuse

I think this is sort of a non-story. Mitch Daniels won reelection by 18% in a state Obama won. There is something to be said for him. He says he wants to be remembered as an ideas guy and as "authentic". Mitch Daniels actually wants to deliver on the promises he gives. He is going to finish his governor's term until 2012, no doubt. I'm not certain as to where Daniels will go from there, but his resume is certainly very credible. He could do great in the private secter. Or, if Richard Lugar were to retire in 2012, I'm betting that Lugar will try to convince Daniels to think better of never seeking any other office.

Posted by: reason5 | May 20, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

So, he "successful" but no one listens to what he says?! Okay.

Posted by: JakeD | May 20, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

For all of Daniels's success, his influence nationally has been somewhat circumscribed. He recounted that he had advocated his approach to politics to other GOP candidates with "no success at all"

Posted by: drindl | May 20, 2009 1:41 PM | Report abuse

By definition, someone was listening to him if he got elected Governor.

Posted by: JakeD | May 20, 2009 1:32 PM | Report abuse

"I am going to stick to Indiana," said Daniels of his political future. "I would like to finish this job and have the people of our state be less cynical than they were before."


That attitude is missing from too many politicians, of all stripes.

Posted by: bsimon1 | May 20, 2009 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Laughable. Some revolutionary. He toured the state in an RV. And no one listens to what he says.

Posted by: drindl | May 20, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Ike was bald too.

Posted by: JakeD | May 20, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Democratic Revolution against Gitmo money, Republic Revolution by short bald guy, Tea Revolution by cul-du-sac inhabitants..

.. All these revolutions and nothing seems to change.. my personal favorite version of Revolution is by S.T.P.

Posted by: newbeeboy | May 20, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

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