The Agenda

Pete Spiliakos on the Obstacles to Danielsism

At Postmodern Conservative, Pete Spiliakos offers a pessimistic reply to my recent reflections on Christieism:

 

Salam summed up this brand of politics by writing “Republicans need to articulate in the 2012 election: not anti-government, but better government. Not opposed to a safety net that helps working Americans get back on their feet, but against entitlements so inefficient and expensive that they crowd out everything else we want to achieve as a country.”  Call it Danielsism (as in Mitch Daniels.)

I don’t see any Republican presidential candidate who is going to eloquently defend such a program to persuadable voters in 2012 or effectively pursue that program as President.

As Spiliakos goes on to explain, the political obstacles to Danielsism are considerable:

Enacting and implementing even a moderate and prudent version of Danielsism would include united and mobilized resistance from the majority of the Democratic coalition, their media allies and sympathetic media outlets that don’t formally affiliate and left-of-center.  They will do everything they can to scare the pants off people.  The resistance to Danielsism would include powerful interest groups who aren’t always aligned with one of the two parties (the AARP and hospital groups come to mind.)  Any President who seriously pushed Danielsism would face a storm, their poll ratings would dip initially, and some allies would run for cover.  On a smaller scale, something similar happened to Daniels in his first term and is happening right now to governors Scott Walker and John Kasich.  The difference is that Danielsism would be a bigger change for more people than anything Walker or Kasich have done and the pushback would be bigger for any conservative reformist president. 

I can’t improve upon Spiliakos’s cogent remarks, so I won’t try. Part of his point is that Mitt Romney, once again the Republican frontrunner, hasn’t evidenced great political courage in the past:

Does anyone want to bet that Romney will, for the first time in his political career, show great commitment to principles that have become (very) inconvenient?  If Romney doesn’t have that commitment in him and he buckles, where does that leave us as the country hurtles toward bankruptcy?

That’s an excellent question. One obvious reply to Spiliakos’s critique of Romney is that the available alternatives to a not-terribly-inspiring Republican nominee who is capable of winning the next presidential election are not-terribly-inspiring Republican nominees who can’t, which means the consolidation of a series of health system reforms that we have good reason to believe will accelerate and deepen our relative economic decline.

But of course Spiliakos isn’t arguing that Romney and the incumbent president are indistinguishable. Rather, he is arguing that we find ourselves in a bind, which is beyond dispute. 

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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