Candidates like Mitch Daniels rarely win nominations.

They never win Presidential elections, where good looks, a velvet tongue, and rock star branding almost always trump competency, intelligence, and character. Just look at the last three guys we’ve elected.

Even more of a kiss of death is this article from Politico, which tabs Daniels as the favorite of the pundits, talking heads and policy wonks. And if you are wondering why this is the kiss of death, take a gander the candidates from the past that these political nerds had a crush on in the past:

Bruce Babbitt. Paul Tsongas. Ross Perot. John Anderson. Lamar Alexander.

Not exactly a murder’s row of memorable candidates.

I’m surprised Robo-dork himself, Steve Forbes doesn’t get a shout out, given the names above.

But Daniels certainly deserves a look, especially if our government keeps spending money like that contestant on Wheel of Fortune who won’t solve the puzzle until they’ve purchased all the vowels.

What makes Daniels different from, and potentially more formidable then, his truth-telling predecessors is that he’s not just The New York Times’ idea of the ideal Republican. The man known as The Blade during his tenure as Bush 43’s first OMB chief also has more traditional conservatives swooning.

“He’s a Reaganite who is not trapped in 1980s nostalgia,” wrote National Review editor Rich Lowry last year. “He’s a fiscal conservative who believes not just in limiting government, but in reforming it to address people’s everyday concerns; he’s a politician of principle who refuses to sell his program in off-puttingly partisan or ideological terms.

In his appeal to both center and right, he resembles another politician whose ability to transcend the frivolous political culture delighted the punditocracy both within his own party and in the middle — Barack Obama.

Daniels will undoubtedly have his detractors, especially given his penchant for not giving two craps about social issues. Many will recall his proposed “truce” on social issues that certainly did not endear him to the conservative right, especially the evangelicals, who have a major influence on who gets the GOP nod every four years.

But there are some conservative thought leaders who find merit in a Mitch Daniels candidacy:

“I do like Daniels, and I think that Americans often vote for the opposite of what has disappointed them,” said conservative columnist George Will on ABC’s “This Week” last Sunday. “If they’re disappointed with Mr. Obama, then a short, balding, unimpressive, uncharismatic, competent governor might be just the key.”

And Charles Krauthammer, who sees a Sarah Palin nomination much differently than many other conservatives:

The idea of a skilled manager who is passionate about ideas, can claim real policy accomplishments and speaks bluntly, but not bombastically, has thrilled influential conservatives like Will and Charles Krauthammer who see a Palin nomination as akin to a suicide pact.

The latter describes Daniels as a happy medium between the rising stars who are still a cycle away — Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio — and the familiar faces who have considerable flaws such as Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

“He would be the compromise between the young guns who are too young and the ones we’ve already seen who are not attracting enthusiasm,” Krauthammer said on Fox News last month.

Daniels faces the daunting task of convincing the social conservatives that he won’t sell their causes down the river, while maintaining his credentials as first and foremost a fiscal conservative who will do the desperately needed cuts and reforms to government and find a way to bring the deficit back to Earth.

Now there’s a tough budget to balance!


  • East of Eden

    Totally unrelated, when I was a girl growing up in Arizona and Bruce Babbit was our gov, I thought his name was Brucey Babble. He really was a mumbler though…

  • Stephen Meehan

    I lived in Indiana for much of the last four years. So I’ve seen this first hand, this guy doesn’t stand a chance, for all the reasons you point out. He is essentially a policy wonk. He makes smart budget decisions but fails miserably at explaining them — so the voters hate him. His lack of position on Social Issues has made many of the conservative Indianans I know are really annoyed with him. He’s closer to Karl Rove (or Rahm Emanuel) than George Bush (or Barack Obama). Probably not as cold, but certainly as carefree when it comes to media perception.

    • David Kaiser, Editor

      Steve, to paraphrase Dorothy, you’re not in Indiana any more.

      How does a Republican who is supposedly unpopular win reelection in 2008, when Obama and the Dems were sweeping the nation? He was so unpopular, he won by 17% in Indiana when Obama was the first Democrat to win the state since 1964!

      The most recent numbers I’ve seen on Daniels is an approval rating hovering around 65%. If you are talking 2005-06, I’ll give you the fact his approvals were in the 35-45% range, but as recently as November, his approval rating was 75%!

      • Stephen Meehan

        It is tough to consider his 2008 victory as indicative of his prowess as a campaigner and politician. His opponent was Jill Thompson, who was running for office for the first time since losing her campaign for a House seat in 2002. With little money and no name recognition, it was barely a fair fight.
        His ratings are high now, but that seems to have more to do with his doing nothing than doing anything spectacular. He is an ideas man, and a good one at that. But to be successful, he’ll need one hell of a PR team.

    • CHS

      As a life-long Hoosier (and one who has never actually heard the term “Indianas” which somewhat makes me question your claims…), I’ll add my two-cents.
      What makes Daniels so interesting is that, while he has very little of the “traditionally appealing qualities” of a candidate – see above – he has had wide-spread appeal across all facets of the Hoosier-state. In 2008 (and, I will give you that the Dems had a dud of a candidate, but it still needs mentioning), the man received more votes than any Gubernatorial candidate in Indiana history in a year that, for the first time since 1964, Indiana voted for the Democratic Presidential Candidate. Now, that vote came, in part, from an influx in voter-registrations and numerous first-time voters and, Daniels still won with them.
      Also, you cannot argue with the man’s record. At a time some states are facing bankruptcy and most are at least in debt, Indiana has money in the bank. So, I would say that I challenge your claims that voters hate him – unless you live in the Region or in Center Township of Marion County. I’ve seen wide-spread support for the man from both Republicans and Democrats. HOOSIERS would love to see him in the White House. However, he shows little desire to run, which, in my opinion, makes him the best candidate. The most important qualification for being President should be that you don’t want to be President.

      • Stephen Meehan

        CHS, in my experience only native or long-time Hoosiers actually use the term Hoosier (or those who have seen the movie one too many times)… and that I am not. I was simply putting in my 4 years in the midwest. Besides, the USA Today appears to think it’s a real word … so I’ll keep it.
        Admittedly, most of the conservative Indianans (or Hoosiers) I knew where staunch Social Conservatives and perhaps I have a more skewed vision of GOP voter feelings on him.
        But, I don’t disagree that Hoosiers at this point would love to see him in the White House — but I don’t think he has the politicking skils it takes to win a National Election. He’d make a great cabinet member — particulary a Treasury Secretary.

        • Stephen Meehan

          Sorry, I meant to include this link as evidence

        • David Kaiser, Editor

          I have some of the same reservations about him from a likablity and “slick” perspective Steve, I just disagreed that he was unpopular in Indiana based on the numbers, and CHS presented an anecdotal confirmation of that.

  • Jason Wright, Editor

    I am intrigued more and more by this guy. (Daniels, not Kaiser.) I want to hear more about his stance on social issues to find out just how squishy he might be, but so far I’m seeing a guy who could really compete for the 20% of middle of the road voters who decide elections.

    • David Kaiser, Editor

      Jason doesn’t find me intriguing?

      The flower is off the bloom! It will never be the same!

      Oh woe, oh sadness…

    • Troy La Mana

      Jason is going to jump from the Mittens Train???

      • Jason Wright, Editor

        Nope, I’m jumping on the Christine O’Donnell bandwagon.

        • Troy La Mana

          She put a spell on you.. and now you’re hers…