But if Daniels ever changed his mind about running--or if persuasive citizens convince him to do so--he would possess a quality most of his potential 2012 GOP opponents lack: a substantive record that can directly challenge Barack Obama's vulnerabilities and make him a formidable challenger. And that is why his potential as a serious GOP presidential candidate, despite his repeated utterances and reassurances that he does not want to seek that office, should never be underestimated.
To voters concerned about America's growing budget deficit, Daniels can tell them that he inherited a deficit and is now one of the few governors presiding over a budget surplus. He is, after all, referred to as "the Blade."
For the Hoosiers who want a government that is lean but user friendly and efficient, he can tell them that he even increased the approval ratings of Indiana's DMV by making it more efficient.
To voters concerned about health care, he can tell them that he insured Hoosiers who weren't poor enough to qualify for government assistance and not wealthy enough to purchase private insurance with his Healthy Indiana program, which utilized personal health savings accounts in a way that promoted personal responsibility and was consistent with free market principles while providing a safety net for catastrophic medical emergencies. And his plan was fully paid for by raising cigarette taxes and reallocating some of the states Medicaid funds, for which Indiana had to get approval.
For those who want a bipartisan consensus builder, Daniels can tell them that he won reelection by winning Indiana's independent voters and over-performing among young voters, Democrats, and minorities even in an election year when Obama surprisingly won Indiana.
And while Obama campaigned on turning the page on the polarizing politics associated with the Boomer generation--and that generation's first two presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush--Obama's presidency has not been able to escape the bitter partisanship familiar to both of his predecessors. In many ways, the vitriol, rancor, and divisiveness seem to have gotten worse.
To be fair, there are factors beyond Obama's control--like gerrymandered congressional districts, 24-hour news, the rise of new media that has become more relevant even as it fragments the news cycle, and Republicans intent on opposing the president at every step to maximize turnout for an off-year election that is often dominated by partisans--that have created an environment where potshots and partisanship get rewarded over reasoned dialogue and consensus-building. And these factors are not likely to go away. In fact, they are likely to intensify on both sides of the aisle.
If you ask Daniels, he'd probably blame a lot of it on the "me first" mentality of his Boomer generation. He said as much in his commencement address at Butler when he scolded his generation for bringing that "me first" mentality into the political arena and lamented that: "Year after year, regardless which party we picked to lead the country, we ran up deficits that have multiplied the debt you and your children will be paying off your entire working lives. Far more burdensome to you mathematically, we voted ourselves increasing levels of Social Security pensions and Medicare health care benefits, but never summoned the political maturity to put those programs on anything resembling a sound actuarial footing. ... In sum, our parents scrimped and saved to provide us a better living standard than theirs; we borrowed and splurged and will leave you a staggering pile of bills to pay. It's been a blast; good luck cleaning up after us."