I admit I have never been a Mitch groupie. But, the prospect of a local leader with at least a conservative shell stimulates excitement and an element of community pride. However, having reconsidered in more depth the big picture in light of the last year of Daniels political positioning, I do not think he can win over the social conservatives within the Republican Party. Further, I am not quite sure he even wants to. If he does, he has no intention of joining them on the right; rather he expects them to move to the center with him.
What got me thinking again about the politics of Gov. Daniels were a few critical comments made by talk show host Mark Levin. I don't always agree with the national talk radio voices, but when they go against the grain of even fellow conservatives I take careful note. In this case, Mr. Levin contends that Gov. Daniels is not a good conservative choice to rally behind. As you read Mark Levin's comments, pay attention to the straight forwardness exhibited by his genuine conservative thoughts.
"Mitch Daniels, almost out of nowhere, the governor of Indiana shows up at CPAC he's introduced by George Will, he's promoted as this great candidate for president, Levin said. Of course he says you social conservatives park it and sit down. That’s not key right now. What’s key right now is the fiscal stuff oh, OK.”
"Now he may be good for Indiana the way [New Jersey Gov.] Christie may be good for New Jersey but that’s not good enough, he said. Good enough is an articulate, confident, conservative voice that whenever confronted with tyranny, speaks of liberty. That whenever confronted with lawlessness, speaks of the Constitution. He doesn’t compartmentalize issues because that tells me that he's not a Reaganite. That he's not a conservative."
"Mr. Daniels, you get a little x, he said. You're too weak. You don’t see the full horizon. You’re ready to battle on some turf, but on way too much you’re ready to surrender the turf."
There is certainly no misunderstanding of what Mr. Levin meant. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Gov. Daniels.
This motivated me to rethink Gov. Daniels presidential prospect. I began with Rush Limbaugh's review of Gov. Daniels CPAC speech. A few days after his CPAC speech, Limbaugh took aim at Daniels for what seemed to him to be a "dissing" of his listeners and social conservatives in general. Rush honed in on the statement "we will need people who never tune in to Rush, or Glenn, Laura, or Sean, who surf past C-SPAN to get to the SportsCenter." Just on its face, there are a few ways to interpret this simple sentence. Rush, as did others, chose to take into consideration Gov. Daniels earlier commitment to a social truce and his overall display of conservatism in drawing their conclusions. Of course, moderates who are the real culprits of divisiveness within the Republican Party laid the charge of misunderstanding at the foot of conservatives. Once, maybe it is a simple misunderstanding. Twice, it's possible. But, three times reveal a pattern of "misunderstandings" worthy of consideration.
Although, only a few words long (not the only part either), they are very telling of who Mitch the politician is and the political games we can expect from him as a candidate if he decides to run for president (I don't think he will). I conclude this based not only on the subject of his CPAC speech, but his overall pattern of ambiguity and misunderstandings. The first red flag I noticed was that his entire CPAC speech was empty of any substantive pledge that he is on the side of social conservatives. This noticeable fact was praised by moderates but logged for future consideration by social conservatives. I did not expect him to rehash his social truce comments. But, if he desired to impress upon social conservatives their compatibility with his plan he needed to address them and he didn't. I knew at that time that he was soon going to lose the required social conservative base he needs for a presidential bid. This has since played out as expected; the media and moderates are singing Gov. Daniels' praise while others look for a more formidable candidate.
Still, I wondered if the criticism was too harsh or maybe even without justification. Was Gov. Daniels suggesting anything more than the need to add to the party and not subtract as so many of his cheerleaders claim? Was this truly a case of social conservatives misunderstanding him as his defenders immediately charged? To this question I began tabulating the record of the misunderstandings of Gov. Daniels.
First, speaking with The Weekly Standard, he calls for a social truce using vague language that raised uncertainty about just what a social truce meant in practice. Naturally, semantic ambiguity opens the door for different interpretations (right or wrong). Of course, it was the stupid social conservatives with their little Palin minds that misunderstood him (sarcasm). Therefore, Gov. Daniels had to go on the record again to explain that it was "just a suggestion" and "I picked the word 'truce' because no one has to change their point of view, no one has to surrender."
To correct Gov. Daniels: yes, some would be required to surrender their point of view. He is asking people like me to classify social issues as just not important enough to be addressed at this time. He is in fact, "suggesting" that social conservatives alter their point of view that issues such as abortion and traditional marriage are of greater importance. From a social conservative’s point of view, some things are just more compelling. Which is better, an economically prosperous Germany that slaughters millions of Jews or a failed Germany with no mass murdering of Jews? Many people have lived in poverty while enjoying the goodness of life. If fiscal conservatism is all that you bring to the table then your contribution is of little weight; even a child molester can be a fiscal conservative. What Gov. Daniels is asking is that social conservatives prioritize in a manner that violates their conscience. He wants us to adopt his ranking of the issues and discard ours. Someone who is an elder at a Presbyterian church might be able to do that and sleep well, but the rest of us cannot. It is simply better to live with a little than to have a prosperous economy with no moral bearings.
Now, to the details of the 2011 CPAC speech, keep in mind that CPAC 2011 came off the heels of his social truce suggestion; that is the context. As I said earlier, the social truce was an interpretive factor. At this point, social conservatives are legitimately suspicious of his alliance. You would think clarity would be valuable and reconciliation would be the order of the day; after all it was CPAC. Conservatives win through addition not subtraction, right? If he intended to express his support for social conservatives, he failed big time. I was asked by a fellow conservative if Daniels could have spoken differently and in such a way to head off any misunderstandings, particularly Rush Limbaugh's commentary? My response was of course he could have and then I offered proof. Compare what Gov. Daniels actually said with my unambiguous, party building paraphrase.
Gov. Daniels- "we will need people who never tune in to Rush, or Glenn, Laura, or Sean, who surf past C-SPAN to get to the SportsCenter"
Paraphrase- "In addition to" talk radio listeners we will also need people who never tune in to Rush, or Glenn, Laura, or Sean, who surf past C-SPAN to get to the SportsCenter"
Now, I ask you which statement accurately conveys the commitment to the concept of winning through addition not subtraction? Is there any room for misunderstanding with my paraphrase? A simple prepositional phrase would have met the requirement of direct, party building language. However, when you are trying to distance yourself from something or someone manipulating language is the first line of defense. I think his speech was carefully crafted and purposely ambiguous for a reason. Mitch Daniels clearly thinks social conservatism is not the way to the White House. Therefore, he is distancing himself from the right with the intention of finding a more centrist and a seemingly greater political base. It will never happen; not just for Gov. Daniels but all future republican presidential candidates. They will either be more conservative on social issues or the Republican Party will fail.
The most recent misunderstanding stemmed from a statement he made in reference to the "right to work" bill that Indiana legislators were working on before Democrats walked out last week. I think what he said may very well have been misconstrued. Regardless, it was muddied enough to make him once again, explain what he meant. We already have a president that says one stupid thing after another; we don't want it coming from a republican. For someone who is as seasoned as Gov. Daniels, I expect better.
Now contrast Gov. Daniels with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal:
"I think that it's absolutely critical to get the economy growing without raising taxes or increasing the deficit. I'm also proud to belong to a party that stands for the sanctity of human life and traditional marriage. Those values remain important during good and bad economic times."
Any candidate for president will be required to publicly declare his stance on social issues otherwise their candidacy will be dismissed at the door. As a candidate you don't get to determine if there will be a truce on social issues, voters do. And voters are plain spoken on the social truce; it will not happen. One only needs to look at Indiana's HR6 bill to see that.