SOUDER: Pence’s, Daniels’ populist subtleties

Keywords Forefront / Opinion

Mark SouderSteve Goldsmith was one of the brightest men to run for governor of Indiana but he lacked a populist touch. In my little hometown of Grabill, Goldsmith actually honored us as few gubernatorial candidates do by participating in the parade.

Afterward my older son asked, “Dad, he didn’t really want to be here, did he?” “Why do you say that?” I replied. “Because everyone could see his cell phone, and then he even took a call while walking in the parade.”

Goldsmith’s generous gift of time backfired as people took it that others were more important than they were.

Mitch Daniels, when we talked before he came back to run, told me he had learned from the Indianapolis candidate losses. No more caving in to the Indianapolis rules to use only red, white and blue, and to avoid folksy first-name stuff. “This is not Fort Wayne,” they sniffed. Daniels told me bluntly: “I learned. I am going to out small-town you.”

His brilliance at immediately recognizing the value of the RV and the television “series” were indicative. The “Eli Lilly big pharma millionaire with the huge home in Carmel” became “My Man Mitch from Anywhere, Indiana.”

Daniels went from an internal consultant’s type role—Reagan’s political director, point man for Lugar—to successful candidate, a move few intense, cerebral people can pull off.

Mike Pence is a natural people person. Daniels developed a one-on-one voter intensity like his personal style, but you never really felt he was going to invite you over to his house to watch a movie. Pence seems like a guy who would, if he weren’t so busy, not only invite you but ask you what type of soft drink you prefer and how much butter on the popcorn.

Daniels worked to become a populist, sort of, which was thought unlikely at best. We knew Daniels could govern and raise money, but seriously, did anyone think he would do so well at fairs or sustain any sort of Harley image? Whereas Pence seems to naturally enjoy Lincoln Days, posing for pictures and opening headquarters, and would love to attend a ballgame if he didn’t have to raise so much money.

Subtly, Pence has demonstrated some populist differences based upon his experiences. He ran a National Guard commercial followed with a proposed veteran’s preference on state contracts as well as vet breaks on tuition. His many trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, visits to Camp Atterbury, and the sheer number of veterans in the towns outside Indianapolis who are often key swing voters obviously had an impact. Style and experience drove policy proposals.

Both Daniels and Pence are tightwads with taxpayer money. Both hate government regulations. Both are creative.

But the subtle differences already can be seen from Pence’s more Indiana small-city-rooted, veteran and social conservative, backyard barbecue style. “Business-style conservatism” (Daniels) versus populist style (Pence) will have core similarities, but there may be some significant differences depending upon the economic challenges Indiana faces.

As congressmen, Pence and I were close allies. Our rare differences were usually tactical or related to my MBA, business-conservative approach. I usually had a 100-percent chamber rating but lower for Club for Growth. Similar to Daniels and Lugar, I believed that capitalism requires functioning capital, thus voted for TARP as essential policy. Populists still rage on about it.

Some conservatives call business conservatives “crony capitalists” who favor anything that helps business. Actually, anything short of a flat tax or fair tax pits special business interests against one another.

Liberal Democrats always have government expansion as the solution, but we conservatives actually have variations. Those subtle differences can be major, however, if you happen to be in the middle of such a conflict.•

• Souder, a former business owner and Republican representative of the 4th Congressional District, is a political commentator living in Fort Wayne. Send comments to

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