The Anti-Obama?
Mitch Daniels might challenge Obama in 2012; the GOP would be lucky to have him.


Mona Charen

On the morning of November 5, 2008, the world rocked to news that the United States had elected Barack Obama to the presidency. That same morning, Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana, joined the list of those most often mentioned as potentially defeating President Obama in 2012.

In what may be a sign of unusual mental health and emotional balance, Daniels persistently declined to be considered a candidate. Among his many reasons, he told C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb, was reluctance to subject his family to the “savagery” of presidential politics. It is great news for the country, if not for him, that he has at last relented and agreed to keep the door open — if only a crack.

He earned his spot on the short list of possibilities the hard way: In a quicksand year for Republicans, he managed to win reelection as governor by 18 points (in a state Obama carried). His supporters included 24 percent of Democrats, 20 percent of African-Americans, 51 percent of the youth vote, 67 percent of the elderly, and 57 percent of independents.

When Daniels took office in 2005, Indiana, which had been enduring Democratic governors for 16 years, was running an $800-million deficit. Four years later, it had a $1.3-billion surplus. Daniels accomplished this without raising taxes (as 66 percent of states have done); in fact, he passed the largest tax cut in state history. Nor did he cut essential services like education, as 40 states have done. As Mark Hemingway reported in National Review, “In the last three years, the state has repaid $760 million to schools and local governments that had been appropriated to finance the state’s deficit spending.” Additionally, Indiana has hired 800 new child-welfare caseworkers and 250 state troopers, all while cutting the rate of increase in state spending from 5.9 to 2.8 percent annually.

Daniels has successfully courted business investment and has welcomed “two Toyota plants, a Honda factory, a $500-million Nestlé facility, and a British Petroleum project that will bring $3.8 billion to the state.”

This is a laboratory of successful conservative governance. As Daniels put it to NR, “Our health-care plan is health savings accounts for poor people. Our telecommunications policy is deregulation. Our infrastructure policy was the biggest privatization in state history.” And his spending policy was less is more.

A former chief of the Office of Management and Budget (under George W. Bush), Daniels is known for his incisive mind and mastery of detail. In addition to government service — he also worked as an aide to Sen. Richard Lugar and as Ronald Reagan’s political director — Daniels has headed a conservative think tank, the Hudson Institute, and served as president of Eli Lilly’s North American operations.