Too Serious to Win.


David Leonhardt sat down for a long Q&A with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and came away impressed:

I recently sat down with him in his office to talk about what small government might actually look like. To be clear, it would be very different from the Tea Party dream, in which taxes could be cut; Medicare, Social Security and the military could be left untouched; and the deficit would somehow vanish. Mr. Daniels is willing to acknowledge as much.

He says he avoids using the phrase “waste, fraud and abuse” because “it’s too glib — there’s no wand you can wave.” He says military spending should be cut. He called the Republicans’ recent attacks on Democratic efforts to slow Medicare’s cost growth “not a proud moment for our party.” He had kind words for the Tea Party but pointed out that it did not have a solution. [...]

Cutting government is no economic panacea. But it will surely have to be part of the solution to our long-term budget problems, in Washington and in the states. Mr. Daniels, at least, has begun offering a serious choice about what kind of government we should have.

I'm not too thrilled about the Daniels agenda -- shifting the cost burden for end-of-life care to the individual sounds good, until you remember most people aren't flush with money -- but Leonhardt is right, Daniels is a Republican you can work with. Too bad it doesn't matter.

If Daniels wants to be president, he'll first have to win the Republican nomination. And if he wants to win the Republican nomination, he'll have to build strong ties with conservative activists, donors, and the Republican rank and file. "Works well with others" might help with the Beltway crowd, but it doesn't sit well with an opposition-hungry base that seemingly prefers denunciations and utopianism to cooperation and detailed policy. And while this is shared by parts of the progressive base as well, the Huffington Post wing of the Democratic Party doesn't hold much sway in a presidential nomination contest.

Eventually (in about 5 years, 9 months, and 30 days, to be precise), Republicans will win the White House and might even take both chambers of Congress. I would vastly prefer a President Daniels to a President Rubio or a President Jeb Bush. So, with that said, I wish him the best of luck. But that requires a Daniels-friendly Republican base, or at least one that understands the virtue of a big political tent. For right now, that doesn't look too likely.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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