Monday, February 28, 2011

2012 Contender: Mitch Daniels, Conservative?

Who is Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels? That’s a good question. The establishment loves him. Indeed, everyone from establishment conservatives like George Will to establishment liberals like The Economist and The New York Times heap praise upon him. Is it deserved? That’s hard to say because divining Daniels’ true beliefs is difficult because every time Daniels giveth, Daniels taketh away.

Daniels’ history is that of a consummate insider. He spent years working for RINO Richard Lugar, he served as Reagan’s budget director, he ran the US operations for Eli Lilly (a big pharmaceuticals firm), he was president of the Hudson Institute (a conservative think tank), and he served as Bush II’s budget director. As governor of Indiana has been known for being pragmatic and “not dogmatic.” Here’s why:

Smaller (Growing) Government: Daniels talks about making the government smaller, BUT then says the government must be aggressive at doing things the private sector cannot, “like improving schools” (which frankly, the private sector is doing better). He further says, “the nation really needs to rebuild,” a standard Democratic trope for spending. As Governor, Daniels has kept spending growth below inflation, BUT he hasn’t actually cut the budget.

Stimulus: He derided the stimulus BUT took the cash he was offered.

Deficit Cutting: He sounds good on the deficit. He favors cuts in military spending. He intentionally avoids puffery statements like cutting “waste, fraud and abuse,” which are shorthand for “I have no idea.” He favors changes to Medicare and Social Security rather than tax increases to cut deficits. Specifically, he favors benefit cuts for high-income and healthy people. He favors slowing the yearly increase in benefits to reduce the real value of reimbursements over time. And he favors raising the age eligibility for both programs, i.e. the retirement age. These are good ideas. BUT, his track record is not as impressive. As Bush II’s budget director, Bush referred to Daniels as “the Blade,” but the budget went from a surplus of $236 billion to a deficit of $400 billion. Some conservatives accused him of “carr[ying] water. . . for some of the Bush administration’s more egregious budgets [and making] dubious public arguments in support of his boss’s agenda.” Of course, that was his job. FYI, he underestimated the cost of the Iraq War by more than 11 times.

Taxes: In 2008, Daniels proposed and got a property tax ceiling put in place of 2% on rental properties and 3% on businesses. This resulted in an average property tax cut of 30% and gave Indiana one of the lowest property tax rates in the country (these caps were put into the state constitution in 2010 by voters). BUT, in exchange for that tax ceiling, he agreed to raise the state’s sales tax from 6% to 7%.

Unions: Daniels reduced the number of state workers by 18% since he took over as Indiana’s Governor in 2005. BUT, Daniels definitely blew the recent union issue. When Democrats fled the state as they had in Wisconsin after Republicans introduced a right to work bill, Daniels first said he “saluted” the Democrats and that their actions were a “perfectly legitimate part of the process.” Here’s what he said: “Even the smallest minority. . . has every right to express the strength of its views and I salute those who did.” Then he tried to backtrack by saying he meant to salute the protestors, not the Democrats. The Democrats, he said, were “try[ing] to trash the process, run[ning] out to another state to hide out” and were behaving “totally unacceptably.” Of course, he’s wrong both times. The Democrats have the right to do what they are doing, but they should not be saluted for it. His job was to exploit their bad decision. He did not. Instead, he caved in to them, abandoning the right to work bill: “I’ve explained more than once, I thought there was a better time and place to have this very important and legitimate issue raised.” Really, when?

Global Warming: With an eye on the White House, Daniels wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal in which he condemned the Democrats’ cap and trade bill. In that editorial, he echoes my arguments that the scheme would do nothing to affect global warming and would only put the US at a disadvantage to China and India. So far, so good. BUT, he also says he’s approaching the “‘climate change’ debate with an open-mind” and he will let “others” address the “scientific and economic questions.” Then he goes on to say that Indiana is “eager to pursue a new energy future” which he describes as biofuels, wind power, clean coal and “aggressive energy-conservation, indubitably the most cost-effective means of limiting CO2.” His clean coal push also involves “carbon capture.” In other words, he’s not sure about global warming, but he’s all in favor of limiting carbon, i.e. he favors fighting global warming. This is very troubling.

ObamaCare: He supports repealing ObamaCare, BUT he also identifies reforms he would like to see if it isn’t repealed, none of which seem particularly conservative. Indeed, these seem mainly to include dumping Medicaid beneficiaries into Obama’s exchanges and demanding more reimbursement from the federal government. He also proposes giving insurers more flexibility in what they can offer. None of that is good.

Immigration: Daniels has remained disturbingly silent on illegal immigration. He side-stepped questions about Arizona’s law by saying they had “every right to pass that law” (note he doesn’t actually say it’s legal) but that Indiana was “not in the same situation.” Now that a similar bill has been introduced in Indiana, which has an estimated 85,000 illegal immigrants, Daniels refuses to say if he supports it.

Social Conservatism: Social conservatives have been rather upset at Daniels because he said that conservatives need to call “a truce” on social issues because politicians need to unite on urgent matters of national security and debt. Beyond that,

● Daniels claims to be anti-abortion.

● He claims to oppose same-sex marriage as well as recognizing civil unions.

● He supports affirmative action in government contracting and hiring, but not in college admissions.

● He’s a Syrian-American Presbyterian, who says that “atheism leads to brutality” and claims that “the whole idea of equality of men and women and of the races all springs from the notion that we’re all children of a just God,” BUT he also says: “I also take very seriously the responsibility to treat my public duties in a way that keeps separate church and state and respects alternative views.”

So who is the real Mitch Daniels? I honestly don’t know. If I had to pull out a label, I’d say he’s a moderately-conservative establishment type who believes in not rocking the boat. He’s very good at saying things that sound like he’s agreeing with them, without actually agreeing with them, and I have found no evidence that he’s pushing anything more than a veneer of a conservative agenda. He certainly avoids controversy. Would he make a good president? Probably. Would he make a good conservative president? Probably not. But in truth, I have no idea who he really is.


Tennessee Jed said...

I know who he is now . . . . a politician. Looks to me like a guy who will try and avoid taking a hard stand on ANY issue that is the least bit controversial. He talks the talk, but has yet to walk the walk. So, is there anything positive to say? Well, he would be soooo much better than Obama. But, it strikes me the time is right to really do the right thing spending wise. Sadly. we have yet to identify THE perfect anti-Obama, and maybe we won't. I can compromise on social issues, but not on pretend spending cuts.

Joel Farnham said...

Thanks Andrew. I really didn't know Mitch before, and now I know even less. ;-)

He sounds like a moderate. I am unimpressed by moderates.

He certainly isn't on the side of conservative/tea party values.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, it sounds to me like he really is a conservative, but as you said, of the "go along to get along" type. At this point, though, unless something unexpected happens, I don't think it matters. His refusal to confront the unions cooked his presidential goose, whether he really intended to run or not. It may be a little unfair to dismiss him over that one issue, but he and Republicans in general had the national momentum behind them, and there was by then a template in place (i.e., Walker). If he won't stick his neck out for conservatism under such favorable conditions, I don't think we can count on him at any other point, either.

Writer X said...

I lost what little respect I had for him (which wasn't much) after how he handled the union issue. What a putz.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I agree. The more I read, especially his quotes, the more I realized that this was a guy who made all the right noises, but never followed through.

In almost every instance, when I first heard him speak, I thought, "ok, he agrees with me, that's good." Then I re-read the quote and saw all the caveats. Then I saw that he never did anything policy-wise or even did the opposite.

He may be a decent politician, but I don't think he's the guy we need right now. Right now, we need someone who believed what Reagan believed, not someone who only pays it lip service.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I think there is no doubt that he's not a Tea Party person. Everything I've seen on him tells me that his primary goal is to be friends with everyone and he's not willing to do anything that risks offending. The few things he's done that he been really good, he's done as part of a trade that gave away bad things.

So like you, I am unimpressed. I'm not saying he's horrible, he's certainly better than Obama and I would easily choose him over Christie after what we learned last week, but he strikes me as a non-erratic McCain.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I don't know if that killed him or just wounded him. I know that all the conservatives I know were pretty upset about that. But the establishment loves him. So if he does run, you can expect every talking head to push him as the greatest conservative of all time. That might be enough to sway people back.

In terms of being a conservative, I suspect he's a guy who is much more conservative in his personal views than his political views, which he seems willing to separate. That makes him not a conservative to me.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, I knew nothing about him until The Economist put out several huge articles praising him up and down for being a pragmatist. That was troubling. Then I heard all the leftists praise his CPAC speech, and that was strike two. Then the union thing was a complete debacle. There has never been a better time to break the public sector unions than now. And for him to throw that away and throw Republicans under the bus in the process, he might as well start wearing a union button.

Moreover, his failure with the unions shows not only that he won't take chances, but it also shows he doesn't understand our political process. He had a chance to hurt the Democrats by killing off their funding machine, and decided not to.

He would definitely be better than Obama, but he's not what we need.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, it could turn out that way, but endorsement by the establishment was the kiss of death for Republican primary candidates last year, and I don't see that changing for the next election cycle. Grassroots conservatives are still irate that McCain, of all people, wound up being the nominee in '08, and they're determined not to let something like that happen again.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, That's true. But in 2008, it was endorsements by the establishment that pushed McCain over the top. Let's hope that's changed! I couldn't believe who all endorsed him in 2008. Grrrr.

The biggest problem, right now at least, is that I'm not sure who's better? It seems that many of the current contenders are either whackos or people whose conservatism is more for show than practice.

In any event, I'm going to keep looking at the contenders, because I'm finding this useful for figuring out who these people really are.

DUQ said...

Thanks for the information! This is really useful. His response to the unions really bothered me. As you say, if not now, when? This is the perfect time, and waiting until people have stopped worrying about budget deficits is a stupid idea. This proves my instincts.

AndrewPrice said...

Good point DUQ. Right now, people will accept that the unions need to be curtailed because states can't afford to keep paying them and letting them get away with these uncompetitive practices. But if we wait until the economy turns around and budgets are ok, that's a time when few people want to rock the boat. So by his saying that now is not the time, he's basically saying "never."

But that's the thing about everything I found him saying or doing. He would say something like "I agree with you in principle, we just need to find the right way to do it." And then he'd never do it. It's the classic way for politicians to avoid responsibility, by agreeing with everyone but never actually reaching a final agreement.

I think the days we can trust that are over.

StanH said...

Yippy yay yo ki-yay, the RINO herd is growing. Commentarma has lassoed those doggies, or RINOs as the case may be, and laid them bare, sorta.

Mitch Daniels in my opinion is exactly what is wrong with the Republican party today, squishy, movable core, who believes what’s politically expedient. I know I’ve just described a “politician,” but in the times that we find ourselves, firm beliefs are a requisite to beat back the statist in both parties. Who will it be?

StanH said...

As an aside did you see Rasmussen today: “Fifty-eight percent (58%) says it’s better to have a partial shutdown until Democrats and Republicans can agree on what spending to cut.”

“A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 33% of Likely U.S. Voters would rather have Congress avoid a government shutdown by authorizing spending at the same levels as last year.”

You rock America! Shut it down!

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, Good question? I'm going to keep going through the list. Hopefully, we'll find one or two that don't fall into this category?

In terms of him being a RINO, I wouldn't go that far. He doesn't seem to be an active liberal, he just doesn't seem to want to be a conservative either -- and that is where you're absolutely right, we don't need more people who don't have conservative values or won't act on them. We need people who will push the Democrats, not shake hands with them and let themselves be pushed.

I'm not saying we need someone who is bombastic for the sake of being bombastic, or who is so blinded by principles they can't get things done, but we need someone who genuinely believes in conservativism, AND who realizes that the goal of politics as a conservative is to get conservative policies implemented, not just to become part of the process.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, I didn't see that, but that is really great! I love America!

By the way, I did see that Obama's approval ratings are at an all time low, and that he's being killed primarily by (1) his defense of the unions in Wisconsin and (2) his dithering on Libya.

As I said, I love America!

Ed said...

You should definitely do the rest of the candidates, this is really useful. I didn't know much about Daniels except that everyone in the media keeps talking about him. Now I know why.

Don't forget to do Herman Cane and Allen West when you do them! They've got me really curious.

Ed said...

Stan, That's awesome! I don't know how a shutdown would play politically before it's over, but it's great to see the public behind us this far! Go team!

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, Thanks! I will keep going and don't worry, I'll cover both. If we're going to find somebody good, then we need to go through all the possibilities.

As for media, yeah, never trust the media.

Unknown said...

Andrew: At worst, I would describe Daniels as too timid in the face of intractable opposition. But I think that too much is being made of his stand on unions. I would rather he had taken on the broad issue of right to work (and everybody knows from my past posts how I feel about that), but in his judgment it was too soon. Maybe yes, maybe no. But it is important to distinguish between Wisconsin and Indiana. In Wisconsin, the issue was public employee unions and their arrogant demands for more continuing wages and benefits far above those of comparable private sector workers.

In Indiana, at a crucial time in the budget process, the legislature decided to take on right to work for all sectors, not just public employees. As much as I would love to see that, it is a fight that could distract from the budget-cutting measures already before the legislature, and winning complete right to work is no sure thing. A union carpenter or plumber would likely join in the fight to cut public employees' disparate income and benefits, but oppose eliminating their union perks in the private sector. That muddies the waters and distracts from the basic issue--cutting state spending and reining in public employees who are standing against the duly-elected government. And it gives the Democrats a broader base to fight from.

Daniels felt, rightly or wrongly, that straight-up right-to-work legislation in the private sector was too much too soon. Agree or not, that's a principled and practical stand. As we've reminded people more than once, the perfect is the enemy of the good.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, You may be right about the unions, though I still think there is no better time than now, and if he thought the problem was the scope of the bill, then he should have said that and pushed for something similar to Wisconsin that aims just at government employees.

But I think the bigger problem is that I can find no evidence that he's staked out principled conservative positions and fought for those. I'm not saying he might not believe in conservative ideas, he might, but he seems to be a consensus over principle guy who is unwilling to stand up for those principles.

My fear would be that in Washington, where the Democrats and the media are much more fierce and where he has even less power than as a governor, he would get pushed around all in the name of placating the Democrats.

As I say, I think he would probably be a pretty good president, but I don't think he would be a good conservative president. I see him as Bush I, rather than Reagan.

Unknown said...

Andrew: You may very well be right, but I was just a bit concerned that people are jumping on him without having all the facts, particularly the difference between what was going on in Wisconsin versus what's going on in Indiana. I've been in the position of having to be a practical politician and getting less than I wanted rather than risking getting all or nothing. Still, I repeat that timidity is not something I look for in a potential President, and Daniels certainly isn't near the top of my list. There are others who are bolder and have better track records of taking on the opposition despite the odds. I don't see him as Bush, but I sure as hell don't see him as Reagan. The Democrats in Indiana are wusses compared to the man-eating sharks he'd face in Washington DC.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Like you, I absolutely grasp the importance of achieving what is practical rather than making a futile stand on principle, and I hope that people realize two things:

(1) we will do better with someone who will get as much conservatism as they can, rather than getting nothing while trying to get it all, and

(2) governing is much different than opining from the sidelines, and we need to cut governors (and legislators) some slack for the practicalities of their jobs. A pure ideologue simply cannot succeed as a governor.

So in that regard, we need to be careful about criticizing Daniels or anyone else, except on their whole record.

My concerns with Daniels are that he seems unwilling to court even the slightest controversy, i.e. he's far too timid. And I fear that he would get to Washington and just get steamrolled. I don't know that for a fact, but that would be my guess based on what I've seen. I could be wrong, but that's how I see it.

Ed said...

I agree that it's important to be practical, but it's even more important to have a true conservative as President. A conservative who can be practical when needed and stand on principle when possible is best, but I don't want someone who espouses principle but then never acts on it.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Thanks, Andrew for dropping us the info about Daniels.
I've read about his words and deeds (or lack thereof to be more precise) before and your post is the most sweeping yet regarding his record.

If Daniels doesn't have the spine to push forward on winning issues he will indeed get his lunch money stolen in DC and become the democrats whipping boy.

I also think that Daniels displays very poor judgement irt timing.
Why alienate socialcons now? Why talk about an alternative looniversal healthcare plan to Obamacare (or a revision thereof) now?
Why snatch defeat from the jaws of victory now?

He's acting like he already won the GOP primaries and is now appealling to moderates/independents/democrat-lites.

I too became curious about him after hearing all the "buzz", but I had a deep, gnawing suspicion something wasn't being left out, especially considering the sources of said "buzz."

Reminds me of state initiatives and referendums. Often they are written in legalese and are (more often than not) misleading.

My wife once asked me "how does a voter know who to believe without having to do a bunch of research?"

Well, I encourage everyone to do research and to note trustworthy sources where they can find them (such as here!), but I do understand that a lot of folks, particularly younger one's like our daughters (but not always the young) either don't have the time nor the inclination to do the research that is necessary to find the truth about issues and politicians.

The second best thing to do (sans research) is to see who is supporting whatever bills, measures, initiatives, politicians, etc., are coming up for the vote.

Certainly it's not a foolproof method for always determining the truth but the vast majority of the time it does work.

If one see's that someone and/or some issue is supported by all the usual leftwing shills and supporters then that is a reliable warning sign.

Daniels, at least thus far, fills that bill, unfortunately.

Like Clinton he wants to be all things to all voters but this is not his forte.

I suppose if the GOP primaries came down to Daniels or Ron Paul I would vote for Daniels, and I definitely would vote for any republican over Obama.

I hope it doesn't come to that.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I agree. If you don't believe in conservatism, you can't put it in place.

And I'm not saying Daniels doesn't believe in it, I'm saying he hasn't pushed it. I'll leave it to you to decide if you think he'll be more likely to push it in Washington or not.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, Thanks! I think it's probably a good time to start looking into these people, before the primaries really start.

I agree, if a politician, i.e. Daniels, isn't pushing conservatism in a state like Indiana, then it's unlikely he'll suddenly become Reagan when he gets to DC.

And I agree about the poor timing. He seems to have gone out of his way to make himself appeal to moderates at the moment, but the problem with that strategy is that he doesn't have the conservative credentials to make conservatives feel like he's just trying to appeal to moderates, i.e. he's going to make conservatives very nervous.

In terms of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, that's a RINO specialty, and it bothers me that Daniels seems to be doing the same thing. You can't go into politics expecting to lose and fearing to upset people. If you do that, you will lose every time.

Never trust the media. When they start selling a Republican, there's a reason -- and it's not a good one.

Figuring out the truth in these situations is often difficult because the truth is usually complicated. The way the system is set up, it's full of fake votes that mean nothing or which let things happen despite the vote being the exact opposite. Then they lump issues together. Then you add in the difference between what people say and how they ultimately act, and it gets even harder. It's basically a system designed to deceive.

The hardest part with analyzing Daniels was that his record is surprisingly sparse. For all the years he's been in office or worked for various administrations, there isn't much you can point to an say, "ah, that's what he believes." That is itself troubling from an ideological standpoint.

Let's hope the primary doesn't come down to Daniels v. Paul! Though, I expect that Daniels will go far if he enters the race because he will have a lot of establishment support.

Writer X said...

As an aside, it was interesting listening to the lecture that Pres. Obama gave the governors today about not "vilifying" the unions. Um, who's vilifying? The only deranged people I've seen are the union protestors, especially the ones who've been bussed in from other states.

It will be interesting to see how the governors deal with that spanking. Another good opportunity to watch Daniels too, now that he's in the spotlight.

Great post, Andrew!

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Writer X!

Very good question, who is vilifying whom here? Let's see, the Republicans who have said nothing nasty and done nothing nasty and have gone out of their way to let the Democrats act like children.... or the unions and Democrats who have run around throwing a huge temper tantrum with rent-a-mobs, saying nasty things and protesting at Walker's house to try to intimidate his family?

Who would have guessed that once again, Obama is on the wrong side?

T_Rav said...

Andrew, if you keep up these candidate analyses, at some point, if you haven't done it already, you're going to have to do Palin. For one thing, it should generate an epic number of comments, and for another, whether people like it or not, she's going to have a big impact on the race, so I think her personality and history need to be nailed down just as much as Christie's and Daniels' do. It might risk the mutual recriminations and alienations that have happened on other conservative sites, but it needs to be done, in my opinion.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I think I'll do them all. I'm actually finding this pretty useful for figuring out who these people really are.

And don't worry, I'll do one on Palin. I'll do one on Paul too. Maybe I'll put them both up on the same day and then retreat to a bunker somewhere! LOL!

By the way, did you see that Christie's out there defending Michelle Obama today against unfair Republican attacks. Give me a break.

patti said...

you're like the new barbara walters expose king, without the lisp! i love your in-depth looks at politicians. keep 'em coming (gosh, i'm so lazy)...

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks patti, though I'm not sure being compared to Barbara Walters is a good thing! LOL!

T_Rav said...

Andrew, could you imagine if the primary came down to Palin and Paul? That would be the Holy Grail for political junkies! True, it would also result in 50% of the party either biting the bullet for the eventual winner or just sitting the election out altogether, but hey, it'd be fun while it lasted.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I have to admit that would be fun to watch, though it would all but assure a Democratic win. Still, the fireworks would be pretty neat.

I could also see that being the first primary ever to end with a duel! LOL!

CrispyRice said...

This is a great series you're doing, Andrew. Please do the rest!


AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Crispy! I will!

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