Will Mitch Daniels run for president or won’t he? This is the major current focus of pundits covering the race for the GOP 2012 presidential nomination, especially in the wake of the withdrawal from the race of center-right dark horse Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.
If Mitch Daniels runs for president, I believe he will win the Republican nomination. The reason is simple: The 2012 candidate will come from the center-right sector of the GOP. Daniels is the most viable of all prospective center-right Republican presidential candidates.
On the right wing of the GOP, Sarah Palin is not likely to seek the presidency. She seems to have opted for celebrity over political candidacy – celebrity is much more financially lucrative. I cannot fault her. Her possible candidacy from the right has now been preempted by Michele Bachmann. I like Michele very much, but I doubt she has either the fundraising capacity or a wide enough base to win the 2012 GOP nomination.
With regard to the ever diminishing moderate-liberal GOP sector, moderate Jon Huntsman, despite his wealth, has no chance, for two reasons. First, there are not enough moderate-liberal Republicans to enable him to win a single GOP primary. Second, it is impossible to envisage how a Republican who accepted the appointment of Barack Obama as Ambassador to China could make a compelling case against the reelection of the President.
The focus then is on the center-right candidates, current and prospective. Each of the announced or soon-to-be-announced candidates has serious liabilities.
I like Mitt Romney and supported him in the 2008 primaries against the eventual GOP nominee, John McCain. This year, however, the campaign of the former Massachusetts governor is disabled at the outset by the similarities between Romneycare in Massachusetts and Obamacare. This is potentially lethal to Romney in the GOP primaries. If Mitt is somehow nominated, the heritage of Romneycare also deprives him of the opportunity to make Obamacare an effective issue against the incumbent president in the general election.
I cannot see Mike Huckabee as an effective candidate for the GOP nomination much beyond the Iowa caucuses. The former Arkansas governor just does not have the capacity to win votes outside Evangelical or Bible-belt areas.
Newt Gingrich was a great speaker of the House of Representatives. His remarks on why he had an affair with his current wife during his previous marriage, however, have made him a national laughingstock.
Gingrich attributes his affair to his love of his country which made him work too hard. This will undoubtedly result in his being unable to garner necessary support even from Republican women, who overwhelmingly do not find hard work and patriotism as justification for adultery.
Gingrich’s ludicrous rationalization reminds me of a story involving Kirby Higbe, a pitcher for the late, lamented Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940s. Kirby was quite a drinker and womanizer. He was having an adulterous affair with a woman in his home marital bedroom when his wife suddenly walked through the bedroom door. He immediately jumped out of bed and shouted, “It’s not what it looks like!”
So there will be no President Newt Gingrich.
Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota is a good and decent man, but as a candidate thus far, he has proven to be a national cure for insomnia. The recent controversy over the existence of a Shariah compliant lending fund in Minnesota’s Housing Finance Agency (a fund of which he claimed ignorance) has further damaged his inconsequential candidacy.
Donald Trump???? As they used to say in Brooklyn, “fuhgettaboutit!” His recent involvement with the Obama birth certificate controversy and his absurd refusal to let controversies about Obama’s past die have proven what I have previously said: The man is a successful businessman, but a political fool. His political ignorance makes Jon Corzine look like Karl Rove.
So Mitch Daniels is the leading hope of the Republican center-right.
His record as Governor of Indiana won him acclaim even from those outside Republican center-right venues. He was remarkably successful in enacting education reforms, property tax limitations, and budgetary savings. Daniels was also one of America’s most successful governors over the last three decades in attracting new jobs and businesses to his state.
There are two criticisms made of Daniels in Tea Party and religious right circles, respectively.
Tea Party members are critical of him for raising the sales tax in Indiana from 6% to 7%. The tax increase was enacted to offset in part the loss in revenue resulting from the enactment of the property tax ceilings successfully enacted by Daniels, which made Indiana one of the lowest property tax states in America.
Republicans from the religious right took exception to the advocacy by Daniels of an intra-party “truce” on social issues. Up to this point, however, nobody has questioned the pro-life credentials of Daniels.
Governor Daniels must soon make a decision on legislation barring the state from entering into a contract with any entity that performs abortions (excluding hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers). Planned Parenthood, which operates 28 centers in the state, would lose all public dollars. If he signs the legislation, he will further enhance his pro-life credentials and assuage the concerns of religious right Republicans.
If Daniels does win the Republican presidential nomination, I predict that he will pick Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) as his vice presidential running mate. This will certainly increase enthusiasm on the part of Tea Party and religious right Republicans for the Daniels general election presidential campaign.
There is an interesting political asset that Mitch Daniels has in common with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Both have a unique appeal to Reagan Democrats.
It was the Christie appeal to Reagan Democrats that enabled him to win Gloucester and Middlesex Counties in the 2009 general election. Christie continues to maintain the allegiance of Reagan Democrats, which will certainly increase the likelihood of his reelection in 2013.
For Mitch Daniels, his Reagan Democrat appeal could enable him to carry his native state of Pennsylvania in 2012, with its 20 electoral votes. In a previous column, I wrote that the outcome in North Carolina in the 2012 Presidential contest, with its 15 electoral votes, would likely determine the winner of the presidential race nationally. If Mitch Daniels carries Pennsylvania, he can win the presidential race without carrying North Carolina.
Speaking of Chris Christie, I will make one more prediction: If Mitch Daniels wins the race for the White House, he will ask Chris Christie to accept his appointment as Attorney General of the United States. Chris Christie, however will politely decline.
Governor Christie was the greatest U.S. Attorney in the history of New Jersey. His possible forthcoming clash with the New Jersey Supreme Court over school funding would further enhance his stature among conservative jurists nationally. He would be a superb Attorney General of the United States.
Christie, however, is totally focused on enacting an ambitious fiscal, economic, and education agenda in New Jersey. To attain these historic goals, he definitely will want a second term as New Jersey’s governor, rather than departing for Washington. Having a friend like Mitch Daniels in the White House will also help him in New Jersey, both governmentally and politically.
A Daniels-Rubio ticket will be the most potent national ticket the Republicans could nominate, with its appeal to base Republicans, Reagan Democrats, and Hispanics who will have the opportunity to vote for the first national ticket to have an Hispanic candidate for Vice President. I have little doubt that a Mitch Daniels-Marco Rubio ticket is the one that Barack Obama most fears. The question remains: Will Mitch run?
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and eight federally recognized Indian nations. Under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, he served as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. He currently serves on the political science faculty of Monmouth University.