Ready for Daniels' tough-love message?

Campaign 2012

A Mitch Daniels presidential run could offer a disciplined approach to the federal budget. Yet the initial challenge for the Indiana governor would be to capture all three wings of a winning coalition for the Republican Party: business, the Tea Party, and social conservatives.

Daniels should have members of the business caucus on his side. They want cuts in federal spending and an end to government rules and regulations that stifle business initiative.

He also could get a big part of the Tea Party caucus. Members of that group are even more adamant about slimming down the federal government, with a libertarian streak.

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But Daniels might be shaky with what used to be called the religious right-the pro-life, pro-family voters who overlap with the Tea Party.

Ronald Reagan pulled all conservative factions together in the 1980s, although the Tea Party voters had not yet emerged as a well-defined group.

Daniels would bring a track record of balancing a state budget in hard economic times while other states have suffered major deficits and tax increases.

He has the credentials of a social conservative. For instance, Daniels recently signed pro-life legislation passed by the Indiana General Assembly that would encourage pregnant women to weigh the humanity of the baby in the womb before ending a life. The legislation also cut off funding for Planned Parenthood.

He can give an eloquent speech from the heart about traditional values, the Bible, and the fallacy of the modern notion of figuring out life apart from divine help.

Daniels has practiced what he preaches through the Oaks Academy, a thriving private school that helped revitalize a crime-riddled neighborhood around the school.

The renewal of his marriage to Cheri Daniels is another credential, as he and his wife were reconciled after a period of separation in the 1990s. He has put family values into practice.

But Daniels has a gut instinct against talking about himself; perhaps it's part of his Midwestern approach. His social conservative credentials also don't fit easily into sound bites.

Daniels will be haunted by his call for a truce on social issues in order to address the federal deficit. Set in context, his comment has plausibility. National bankruptcy is potentially catastrophic. Can the president or Congress still run foreign policy if someone else has the purse strings? Can they even make domestic policy under those circumstances?

If he runs, Daniels will have to explain his call for a truce. Social conservatives also may be even more concerned about the kind of judges he would appoint to the Supreme Court. That's where a president affects social issues most directly.

Beyond Republicans, though, are enough voters ready for a tough-love message on the federal budget?

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan has moved the debate forward with specific proposals to head off national bankruptcy. But President Barack Obama doesn't seem to grasp the problem, or he may think the remedies are too painful politically.

Daniels, with a leap into the presidential race, could deliver a much-needed warning about the fiscal calamity that awaits if the federal government stays on its current course.

Even if he runs, and doesn't make it all the way, he could offer a wake-up call about the cost of national bankruptcy.

Russ Pulliam
Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.


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