2012 Contender Series: Mitch Daniels
In this corner… is an ongoing series looking into the viability of potential candidates for the 2012 Presidential race.
(Updated, May 22nd, 2011. Daniels declared he would not run in an e-mail late Saturday evening)
Of all the people considering running for the Republican Presidential nomination, there are few who actually present as credible a challenge to President Obama as Mitchell Elias Daniels, Jr. Daniels is the current Governor of Indiana and has expressed an interest in running for President but has yet to declare any intent to do so. He has an extensive background in politics including Director of the Office of Management and Budget under George W. Bush.
He was born in Pennsylvania but moved with his family to Indiana as a child. He got his Bachelors degree from Princeton and his JD from Georgetown Law. After working on an unsuccessful Senate campaign for William Ruckelshaus, he interned with Indianapolis Mayor Richard Lugar. He stayed on staff with Lugar and when Lugar ran for Senate, Daniels went to Washington as his Chief of Staff from 1977-1982. He then went on to serve as the Executive Director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee for two years. In 1985, Daniels became chief political advisor to President Ronald Reagan.
Eventually, Daniels moved back to Indiana and entered the private sector business for Eli Lilly and Company. Here he promoted the company and its new drug Prozac that made the company (and Daniels) rather successful. Some accuse Daniels of being complicit in helping drive up the cost of medication during his time at Eli Lilly. Daniels even fought off a libel suit from the Church of Scientology after boldly accusing them of not being a church during a dispute over Prozac.
In 2001, George W. Bush tapped Daniels to serve as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which he did until he decided to run for Governor of Indiana in 2004.
As far as fiscal hawks go, Daniels has been known in business and politics as a shrewd budget manager and as Governor he is no exception. He made several controversial moves that hurt his approval ratings but as his budget cuts and increase in sales tax took effect and started having a positive impact, his popularity rebounded.
What the Obama campaign should worry about most is that Daniels is a seasoned politician who speaks the Reagan era message loudly, clearly, and distinctly from having been a part of that time at the White House. As many have pointed out, that message has been missing from the dialogue of the other candidates beyond just paying it lip service. Daniels’ CPAC speech is a prime example of this message. Mitch Daniels could be the Republican candidate who would ignite the base and unify the factions of the Tea Party more than any of the others. And he doesn’t carry the typical baggage that other potential candidates do.
There are a couple of things that could hinder a Daniels candidacy, the most prevelant being his tenure as Director of the OMB under Bush. It was Daniels who was responsible for crunching the numbers that gave George W. Bush the ability to justify the Iraq invasion. The other is his adherence to Republican hard lines on social issues. Just recently, Daniels has been actually poised to defund Planned Parenthood. His bill looks like it will go to federal court. He has also been one of the Governors involved in the union breaking measures similar to Wisconsin (Indiana’s legislators left the state under similar circumstances as the Wisconsin 14).
Daniels, himself has said that the one thing keeping him from getting into the race is the wishes of his family; in particular his wife Cheri. They have hinted that she isn’t fond of politics and it would also draw attention to some marital problems the couple had in the 1990’s when she left the family to marry a man in California. She remarried Daniels four years later. Daniels also has a minor drug related conviction from his younger days.
Daniels is also being encouraged to get into the race by none other than the Bush family; even Laura Bush has called with words of encouragement. Whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen. Substantively, Daniels knows how to govern and is probably one of the biggest threats to an Obama second term should he decide to get into the race.