Is Mitch Daniels the New Republican Savior?

The Indiana governor may be the next Scott Brown

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Is Mitch Daniels the next Scott Brown? Brown, the surprise Republican victor of Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, has been called the savior of the Republican Party. But what if the next great Republican hope comes not from Massachusetts, but Indiana? Speculation about the 2012 presidential challengers is already well under way, but the usual names being bandied about--Palin, Romney, Huckabee--don't seem to be setting folks aflame. A recent spate of conservative op-eds, however, are praising Governor Mitch Daniels as a persuasive pick. Recently, the man himself indicated he's open to running. Is Daniels a serious contender? Here's what conservatives--and a few liberals--are saying.

  • This Just Might Work  The New York Times' Ross Douthat notes Republican ambivalence regarding other GOP options. "But murmur the name Mitch Daniels, and everyone perks up a bit," he says. By all rights, he ought to be a Tea Party favorite with his record of government payroll slashes, argues Douthat. But he also has a deep commitment to getting welfare right, even if it means a lot of government oversight. The requirements:

For a Daniels candidacy to catch fire, what’s left of the Republican establishment, currently (if reluctantly) coalescing around Mitt Romney, would have to decide that he's the better pick. That would mean gambling that the best way to defeat the most charismatic president of modern times is to nominate a balding, wonky Midwesterner who reminds voters of their accountant. Stranger things have happened.

  • What about His Iraq Screwup?  The New Yorker's George Packer admits Daniels "sounds appealing," but points out what The Atlantic's Patrick Appel calls "a rather major weakness": aside from his more positive accomplishments, Daniels was also "responsible for forecasting the budget in the event of a war with Iraq," writes Packer. "His number came in at fifty to sixty billion dollars." Though "astonishingly low," even at the time, it was the number Bush went with, and a number Daniels stuck to "even after the war began." Declares Packer decisively, "he played an obscure but important part in the disaster of those early months in Iraq."
  • Defending Daniels  "My sense," counters National Review's Reihan Salam, "is that there were implicit pressures on Daniels to underestimate the potential costs, and that he was following the rosy scenarios offered by defense planners. This does not reflect well on Daniels." He points, though, to other elements of Daniels's past that are more complimentary. He remains concerned, however, by Packer's suggestion that Daniels was more directly responsible for insufficient funding of Iraq operations.
  • Daniels Doesn't Have Much of a Name, muses Alex Massie at British publication The Spectator, beyond "DC-based GOP wonks." He'll have to do much better outside the Beltway for a shot.
  • But He's Got Good Numbers, observes conservative Mona Charen. "He earned his spot on the short list of possibilities the hard way: In a quicksand year for Republicans, he managed to win reelection as governor by 18 points (in a state Obama carried). His supporters included 24 percent of Democrats, 20 percent of African-Americans, 51 percent of the youth vote, 67 percent of the elderly, and 57 percent of independents."
  • The Un-Obama in More Ways than One  "Undoubtedly," says Hot Air's Ed Morrissey, "Republicans need to offer someone from outside of Washington in a season of discontent with Beltway business as usual ... The bad news is that Daniels is the Un-Obama also in the charisma department. He has a strong grasp of policy, but as with most policy wonks, has trouble when it comes to electrifying the masses from the stump." But that may be just the ticket for 2012, he admits.
  • Grudging Liberal Admiration  "When a major Republican figure is touted as having moderate credentials, it's usually based on some utterly frivolous basis, like wearing a mullet. In Daniels' case, the there's some real substance," admits The New Republic's Jonathan Chait. Then again, "I can't imagine a figure like this making it through the GOP primary."
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