Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels listens as state first lady Cheri Daniels speaks during a memorial service at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis, Monday, Aug. 15, 2011. The service was held for those killed in a weekend stage collapse at the fair. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings) (Darron Cummings)

Mitch Daniels, non-candidate, complains about the people actually running for president

The Indiana governor, a former great conservative hope, annoys some Republicans by criticizing the candidates


Alex Pareene
September 19, 2011 7:10PM (UTC)

Mitch Daniels was supposed to be the serious grown-up candidate who'd save the Republican Party from the kooks and the insufficiently conservative non-kooks running for the presidential nomination. But the Indiana governor decided not to run, and the party got Texas Gov. Rick Perry instead. Daniels has a book out, though, that seems a bit like the sort of book a candidate would release, and he is promoting it by giving interviews in which he complains about the GOP field.

Talking to the New York Times' Jeff Zeleny, Daniels says the people actually running aren't being brave and serious enough as he would've been if he'd decided to run.

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Mr. Daniels said his party’s candidates had a responsibility to conduct a "more candid and honest" conversation about the nation’s financial burdens, particularly Social Security and Medicare.

"Somebody else could still enter and have a competitive chance," Mr. Daniels said in a weekend interview. "The candidate I could get instantly excited about is someone who is willing to level with the American people and assume they are prepared to listen to the mathematical facts and agree that whatever other disagreements we have aren’t as important."

All Daniels actually means by being "more candid and honest" is that he demands more po-faced brow-furrowing about the deficit. Worrying about deficit spending is still proof of seriousness among elite opinion-havers, which is why Zeleny refers to Daniels as "among the country's most respected Republican governors." (Respected by whom? It is unclear.)

Daniels is upset that the Republicans are not being Serious and Adult enough about Social Security. "If there’s a problem with 'Ponzi scheme,'" he says, "it is that it’s too frank, not that it’s wrong. But by stopping there, he might be unnecessarily scaring people." This doesn't even make sense. Rick Perry is scaring people by being too frank about about the truth, but the problem with the Republicans is that they're not candid and honest enough?

The Daniels book and interview tour actually just shows a man who thinks he would've been the nominee, had he decided to run, and he clearly sorta wishes he had. But he didn't, because it would've been hell on his family. His kids begged him not to run. While he was just exploring a bid, the national press picked up on his unexplained divorce from and remarriage to his wife.

If Daniels keeps complaining, having made his decision not to run, Republicans will get mad at him. John Podhoretz already expressed some mild annoyance: "I think Mitch Daniels, whom I like, has a bit of nerve complaining about the field after breaking so many hearts by not running."

That's a friendly way of discouraging Daniels from highlighting the dissatisfaction many Republican elites feel about their candidates. Because as unimpressive as the party grown-ups think Rick Perry and Mitt Romney are, the GOP always, always falls in line behind its candidate.

Even the Wall Street Journal will temper its criticism of Romney should he manage to win the nomination, and they hate Mitt Romney. If you didn't enter the race, you shouldn't be trashing those who did. And you definitely shouldn't be giving the Democrats future attack lines ("Mitch Daniels, a Republican governor whom I really respect, said Gov. Perry is 'unnecessarily scaring people'") to use on the guy who actually will be the candidate.

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There will be more conservative elite push-back against Daniels if he continues criticizing from the sidelines. (And if Daniels really does want a V.P. nod, there's another reason to stop complaining about Romney and Perry and wishing that unnamed other people were running.)


Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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