The Daniels Truce

by Ramesh Ponnuru

From Andrew Ferguson’s excellent profile of Mitch Daniels:

And then, he says, the next president, whoever he is, “would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues. We’re going to just have to agree to get along for a little while,” until the economic issues are resolved. Daniels is pro-life himself, and he gets high marks from conservative religious groups in his state.

A lot of people will cheer that statement: Truces are usually popular, and most people see the economic issues as more important than the social ones at this moment. But I’m not sure how a truce would work. If Justice Kennedy retired on President Daniels’s watch, for example, he would have to pick someone as a replacement. End of truce.

I also can’t help but think of Phil Gramm’s presidential campaign in 1996. Like Daniels, Gramm was an enthusiastic budget-cutter. Concern about big government was running strong in the years just prior to that election. Gramm had a solid social-conservative record, but consciously chose not to campaign on it; he famously flew out to Colorado Springs to tell James Dobson, “I’m not a preacher.” That approach helped to doom Gramm’s campaign.

Daniels, presumably, won’t be trying to unite conservatives against the party establishment’s candidate, as Gramm was, and so these issues will play out differently next time. But I am not at all sure that the party’s grassroots will be less interested in social issues in 2012 than it was in 1996.