A presidential campaign isn’t an experience one wishes on anybody. Campaigns have grown protracted, grueling and increasingly nasty. If they succeed, the job itself is often thankless.
Despite those considerable downsides, Gov. Mitch Daniels should step through the door he cracked open last month and throw his hat in the ring. He spelled out the reasons himself when he complained to Washington reporters that the current crop of potential Republican candidates is sidestepping some of the biggest threats to the nation’s future, namely the skyrocketing debt, dependence on foreign oil, and the shaken confidence in the economic freedom that helped make the United States great.
Daniels’ record as a reformer and problem-solver, coupled with his tendency toward blunt talk, gives him street cred to force these unpleasant challenges onto front burners. He has faced down the Legislature to preserve a budget surplus during lean times, risked political capital on daylight-saving time and the toll road lease, and transformed license branches from dens of mediocrity into professionally operated offices.
Daniels sounds believable when he insists he has virtually no interest in a presidential bid. Supporters coerced him to run for governor, and now many of those same backers are coaxing him toward a much bigger race.
It’s easier imagining a President Daniels than a candidate Daniels. He isn’t given to the personal acrimony that dominates national politics and he isn’t flashy television material. And God help the handler who tries to manage his quick, sometimes sharp, tongue.
Daniels also would face tough questions about his previous roles with Eli Lilly and Co., IPALCO Enterprises and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.
Still, if Daniels were to fill no larger function than Ross Perot played in the 1992 and ’96 presidential elections, he would have done the nation a favor. Perot, of course, was the Texas entrepreneur who kept talking about pesky deficits, and the debate ultimately pushed President Bill Clinton to sign a balanced budget. Unfortunately, those balanced budgets are now a fading memory.
A Daniels candidacy would pound drums Americans don’t want to hear. He’d be the party crasher who raises unpleasant realities and recommends bitter medicine.
But Americans might not swallow it.
One of Daniels’ mentors, U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, encountered a similar problem when he ran for president in 1996 urging a focus on international issues. Clinton appealed to voters’ interest in domestic concerns and won. Years passed before the terrorists Lugar warned about carried through on their threats.
The United States doesn’t have several years to confront the debt. The nation needs straight talk, and action, soon.
Daniels can’t be blamed for rhetorically asking reporters, “Can’t you name 100 reasons that no sane person would do this?”
Yes, easily. But none important enough to keep him out of the race.•
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