There is a good conservative case against Mitch Daniels’s potential presidential candidacy. But this American Thinker piece isn’t it. It begins with a reference to Indiana’s rankings according to various metrics of taxes, spending, and business performance, all of which find the Hoosier State somewhere in the middle to the bottom rungs of the 50 states, 21st overall in terms of “business friendliness.” This is fine as a benchmark, but using such rankings as a measure of policy success or failure is meaningless without a baseline and a time-series. Which way has Indiana moved in these various metrics under Governor Daniels? Policy changes and executive action take time to work under any circumstances, and a snapshot view does not tell us very much about which direction a state may be moving. In fact, past CNBC/Forbes rankings show Indiana jumping around a lot, moving from 27th place in 2007 (the first year the survey was conducted) to 13th place in 2008, and 15th in 2009. And now 21st. Assuming no changes in methodology and no relative measures of the actions of other states over the same time period, Indiana still appears better off today than before Daniels became governor.
A better model for this kind of evaluation is the Cato Institute’s biannual Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors, which uses a consistent evaluation method and ranks all 50 governors against each other. Daniels went from a D in his first Cato assessment in 2006 to solid B’s in 2008 and 2010. But this doesn’t fit the AT narrative very well.
The AT piece begins its evaluation of Daniels’s tenure as OMB director thus: “When Daniels was director of the OMB, he performed equally miserably: he turned budget surpluses (America’s first since FY1969) into deficits.” Really? Daniels did that all by himself? Congress, 9/11, and an economic recession had nothing to do with this? If Daniels was that singularly powerful as budget director, this positively recommends him for the top job. The AT piece continues to go downhill from here, but you get the point.
The serious case against Daniels is that he was too eager upon taking office to raise income taxes on upper earners, that his paper-clip-counting ways take frugality to a counterproductive extreme, that his suggestion that we consider cutting defense spending (attacked superficially in the AT piece) is not well thought out or connected to a coherent strategic vision, and that his proposed “truce” on social issues is an unforced fumble that leaves the field open for the disingenuous “safe, legal, and rare” liberals.