Musings on a Daniels presidential bid

The stories speculating about whether Mitch Daniels will run for president keep coming. Newsweek carried a largely favorable profile earlier this month, and led off Tuesday’s coverage with a piece headlined “Mitch Daniels makes White House moves.”

The Politico story discussed a series of private dinners Daniels has hosted for groups of Republican donors, policy types and business leaders to talk about policy. Daniels plays up his accomplishments as governor and not-so-coincidentally meets people who could fund a campaign and sit in a kitchen cabinet were he to run for president.

Politico’s sources describe Daniels as non-committal about a run, but some of them also leave the meetings questioning whether he’d be the right nominee. He’s smart and conversant on an array of topics, they say, but maybe not passionate enough to fight a bruising race.

Questions about fire in the belly have been raised by pundits and political observers for some time. Both of Daniels’ campaigns for governor were largely free of negativity, and he’s steered clear of personal attacks on Barack Obama while continuing to lambaste his liberal-leaning policies in speeches, interviews and op-ed pieces.

Terms Daniels uses frequently, “statism,” (the shifting of economic and political power from individuals to the government) and “adult conversation,” might be tip-offs about his intentions.

Daniels is clearly upset about the ballooning federal debt, health care reform and the country’s increasing reliance on foreign oil. The nation is smothering entrepreneurial spirit by expanding government, he believes, and too little is being done to confront such hard questions as sustaining Social Security (he advocates means testing: “Why are we sending a retirement check to Warren Buffet?” he told Fox News in August).

Is he upset enough to run for president? That could depend on whether he thinks potential Republican candidates like Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, the former governors of Massachusetts and Arkansas, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Palenty are talking like adults about the big problems. In other words, are they confronting voters with the hard choices Daniels believes must be made, or are they taking the low road and appealing to hot-button issues that don’t ultimately solve problems.

If they tackle tough issues with serious ideas, he’ll likely stick with his oft-repeated intention of staying on the sidelines while continuing to influence the debate. If he thinks they’re fiddling while Rome burns, he might well feel compelled to jump in.

What are your thoughts?

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