The Corner

Gov. Daniels on the Verge

Indiana governor Mitch Daniels met with a group of journalists assembled by Bloomberg View in New York City today. Here’s what I picked up from the meeting:

His conservatism is not combative. Daniels was pressed repeatedly about the role of the Bush tax cuts in building today’s federal debt, about the failure of his fellow Republicans to recognize the need for tax increases, about the nuttiness of his party’s birthers, and about its general “reality-denial problem.” Daniels politely disagreed on the Bush tax cuts, said that Republicans weren’t the only people with nutty ideas, and suggested that Obama’s budget was “disappointing” in its denial of reality. But there was no forceful pushback of the type one might have gotten from other conservatives.

He is passionate about cutting entitlement payouts to the affluent. “Why are we sending Warren Buffett a welfare check?” Universal programs have been defended as a means of building social solidarity. What Daniels sees, however, is “cynicism.” The theory that well-off voters won’t support programs to help the poor unless they get a cut themselves is “politically manipulative”: “People are led, still are led, to believe things that aren’t true.” He adds, “The assumption it makes about the American people”—that they are purely self-interested—“is very unfair.”

His foreign-policy details are TBD. Daniels said that “it cannot be illegitimate to ask” if some of the country’s military commitments should be unwound, but he has not yet reached any conclusions about which should be—or, at least, any he is willing to share. On Afghanistan he refuses to second-guess the decisions of the president, to whose greater access to information he defers. On Libya he says only that he has not seen the case for intervention made. One gets the impression of someone who is much more cautious about foreign intervention than Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty, but also cautious about saying so. He was asked if he were ready to debate President Obama on foreign policy. “Probably not.” (He is candid.)

His ambivalence about running seems real. “I encouraged four different people to run,” he says, and failed. (He wouldn’t name them but Haley Barbour appears to have been one of them.) At one point he used the words “if I talk myself into this” when discussing a run of his own. Why might he run? “I believe the country’s at a very perilous point arithmetically. And I haven’t yet—still hope to—seen anyone else step up to it. . . . So far my brethren have been a little hesitant.”

But he’s leaning toward running. That’s just the impression I got. If he does run, he says, there will be no exploratory committee, “nothing cute.” “We’ll just get on about it.”

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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