Try Again Next Time

The most you can say about Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels response to the State of the Union is that it was better than Bobby Jindal’s attempt in 2009.

To be fair, responding to the State of the Union has never been an easy task. The president has the advantage of pomp, circumstance, and ritual. At best, the opposition party can present a simulacra of these things—see Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s response in 2010—and hope that the actual message is strong enough to reach viewers.

The problem for Daniels is that the Republican message just isn’t very compelling. Other than its usual prescription—cut taxes on “job creators”, cut regulation, cut spending—the GOP doesn’t have a plan for the problems facing the economy. It has no interest in regulating Wall Street (and in fact, wants to return to the glory days of 2008), it has no interest in providing support for lower-income families, it has no interest in bolstering public services (other than the military), and it sees class stratification as either a non-issue or something to be encouraged.

Insofar as the GOP has a winning message, it’s on the debt. Americans have long been allergic to government debt, and the Republican Party could go a long way by hammering on our huge debt load, even if it’s a product of the recession and not President Obama’s policies. To wit, Daniels hits Obama hard on debt and deficits:

“In three short years, an unprecedented explosion of spending, with borrowed money, has added trillions to an already unaffordable national debt. And yet, the President has put us on a course to make it radically worse in the years ahead. The federal government now spends one of every four dollars in the entire economy; it borrows one of every three dollars it spends. No nation, no entity, large or small, public or private, can thrive, or survive intact, with debts as huge as ours.

Unfortunately for the GOP, Mitch Daniels is uniquely ill-suited for an attack on the president’s spending policies. As budget director for George W. Bush, he presided over a massive explosion of government debt, driven by wars, huge tax cuts, and an unfunded expansion to Medicare. Indeed, the current debt situation has more to do with George Bush and Mitch Daniels than it does with anything pursued by Barack Obama.

It doesn’t help that Daniels was far from inspiring, giving his response in a dull monotone that neither grabbed the audience nor gave any sense that this was an important statement of real talk.

Lately, Republicans like William Kristol have been pushing for Daniels to enter the GOP primary race and save the party from the transparent phoniness of Mitt Romney and the insane megalomania of Newt Gingrich. But if this State of the Union response is representative of Daniels’ political talents, then these desperate Republicans should probably look elsewhere.