WHEN last we saw Mitch Daniels (in Indiana; they've seen him in the Holy Land and Illinois recently, which, when you throw in the Purgatorio of returning to Indiana, where his list of sins grows longer with each day's evidence, is pretty much the Midwest Republican politician's recapitulation of Dante) he was signing Indiana's spanking new Right to Work law in the middle of the night before skedaddling. Whatever else you wanna say about the man, he's short. And he's become a master--or his handlers have--of the opera buffa exit. (Wait, what's Italian for "unintentionally comic opera"?) In 2005, newly installed in the Governor's Residence, * Mitch Daniels suggested a tax hike ("one-year-surcharge") on incomes over $150,000. He and the suggestion disappeared about twenty minutes later. He reemerged during the first legislative session that spring only to call minority Democrats "car bombers", Hoosiers in general "backwards" (for opposing his Sell the Toll Road and Change Railroad Time to Indianapolis Market Teevee Network Affiliate Time initiatives), and yell at homeless people:
He made a quick exit after announcing the opening of the bidding process, the closing of the bidding process, and the singing of the contract on the Toll Road lease. (This was all the same announcement. ) This disappearance is my personal favorite, because when he returned his handlers had done a Clockwork Orange number on his hair-trigger temper. For months after, every time he was insulted by one of his inferiors attempting to ask a question, or required to eat corn on the cob in the company of excessively solarized and sweating State Fair goers, he'd blink and swallow involuntarily several times. With his approval numbers in Dubya territory, he was forced to turn up at every phony job-creation ribbon-cutting his team could fabricate, and to tell Delco-Remy he understood management's pain in having to permanently lay off all those unreasonable union workers, who, after all, had cushy telemarking jobs to fall back on. He disappeared again after his famous eighteen-month teevee ad campaign for reelection, just as the end of his ad funding met the horrible economic news it had kept from the public eye. He popped back up the following spring, when the Republican branders needed him to be the anti-Sarah Palin. (This, as it turned out, was not an attempt to get Daniels on the ballot--there are still Republican power brokers old enough to remember Martha Mitchell--but to put the concept of "electability" before the GOP electorate. And the rest is history.) He's been missing again since the Advent, when he had to tell the now-housebroken Press that it was a very, very good thing to find $300 million that had gone missing in state accounts during his watch, because now we had $300 million! When an additional $200 million was found under the couch cushions last month, Mitch was long gone. So now that he's back again, Indiana's premier political journalists demand to know: What advice does he have for Mitt Romney?
The state's savviest Republican political strategist also happens to be its governor. So, as I sat in Gov. Mitch Daniels' office this week talking about his policy agenda for the final months of his term, I decided to pick his brain about the year's political landscape.Because if I'd tried to write about his legislative agenda they would have asked me if I meant to turn in a blank sheet of paper.
Mitch Daniels, savvy political strategist. Y'know, the guy has taken a built-in legislative advantage in the Reddest Red State north of Dixie and East of the Mississippi, and a remarkably well-behaved Bichon Frise of a local Press, and turned it into the sort of record Ronald Reagan would have admired. In that, like Reagan's the whole thing's flummery. Savvy as a snake-oil peddler on a moonless night.
He obliged by offering suggestions for Republican primary voters that he hopes they heed, and advice for likely GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney that Daniels believes would make him a much stronger candidate and, if he is elected, a better president.Advice for Romney from the savvy political strategist who who managed to garner an imaginary 1% of the Republican vote in a field that included three religious maniacs, a grizzled prospector with terminal sunstroke, the most disgraced and mendacious former Representative in the history of the Congress, and Mitt Romney.
"I make the argument that I'm not for this guy because of what he's done; I'm for him because of what he can do," Daniels said. Pointing to major challenges facing the nation, he added: "To address problems that big, we're going to need people who represent our point of view very effectively and can get the ear of other people. And I think (Lugar) is one such person -- one of not too many."This is either utter nonsense, or utterly delusional--and not just in the absolute sense, but in terms of that alternate Republican reality Lugar and Daniels like to pretend they don't represent--or both. Lugar's Teabagger opponent is a twit--but I repeat myself!--and the only reason the race is close is that his criticism of Lugar as another Senate cloak room waxwork has resonated with Hoosier Republicans. Lugar's not a consensus guy; he's a reliable Republican vote, but he's grown too old to keep pedaling Right fast enough for the party. The only consensus he's ever been responsible for was the near-unanimous agreement that Dick Lugar shouldn't be President.
His advice for the former Massachusetts governor? "Go ahead and have the confidence in the voters to explain the fix we're in and then tell them with some specificity what we can do to get out of it in a way that's good for everybody," he said. "Explain those things from the standpoint of the young and poor -- those who haven't achieved the dream yet.""Yes. Well, Matt, I've given this a considerable amount of thought, and my advice to Mitt Romney is to be more like Mitch Daniels." Bear in mind that this is what the best minds and deepest pockets of the Republican establishment could come up with in the fifteen months of the Daniels Not a Candidate Campaign: let's convince the young to abandon Social Security, and the Coloreds that the wealthy don't have any money.
Unfortunately, the national campaigns have veered toward the nasty and the silly this year.Yeah, it's such a contrast with years past.
Romney survived the primary season thanks in part to super PACs and campaign spending that crushed his long line of rivals with negative commercials. Both parties seem to believe this election will be won by the one who does the best job of destroying the other. With that in mind, it's worth remembering that whether you like him or not, Daniels ran two successful campaigns for governor that were heavy on positive messages and policy ideas."Mitch Daniels: he only personality attacked war hero Joe Kernan when it became absolutely necessary"
"You don't change one thing about the policies you advocate or your principles," he said, noting instead that candidates should simply make clear how their policies would lift up those who are struggling. For instance, he said, at fundraisers Romney's message shouldn't be about how his policies affect the well-heeled people listening in the audience, but rather those who can't afford a ticket to get in.Yeah, it's all about the sincerity.
* ha ha ha