Mitch Daniels, the Anti-Panderer

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Mitch Daniels gave an extraordinary speech at CPAC last night. As anyone who has ever done any public speaking at all knows, the hardest thing to do is to tell people things they don’t necessarily want to hear. For Daniels not to strike one pandering note, and even to challenge the audience at times, speaks to just how grounded he is. He even put in a good word for the occasional necessary compromise. Few potential presidential candidates would dare say such a thing in a CPAC speech.

Then, there was the amazingly frank core of Daniels speech: his endorsement of extensive changes in entitlement programs to ward off what he called the “red menace” of unsustainable debt. If Daniels runs for president and gets the nomination, Democrats will have an entire campaign’s worth of material to demagogue in just this one speech. It’s as forthright a presentation on these issues as you’re likely to hear this side of Paul Ryan.

Finally, as Maggie noted, Daniels didn’t even flinch on the (deeply mistaken, in my view) notion of a truce on the social issues, even though it has caused him untold political grief; he just disguised it a little. The logic of the truce is still in this line (somewhat hyperbolically) comparing the debt to an invading army: “If a foreign power advanced an army to the border of our land, everyone in this room would drop everything and look for a way to help.”

In short, a very notable speech, and one that makes you think after hearing it: “That guy should run for president–and probably won’t.”

Rich Lowry — Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

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