I was not invited to Mitch Daniels' elite pundit confab. But some smart people were, including Ramesh Ponnuru, who observes:
Daniels was pressed repeatedly about the role of the Bush tax cuts in building today’s federal debt, about the failure of his fellow Republicans to recognize the need for tax increases, about the nuttiness of his party’s birthers, and about its general “reality-denial problem.” Daniels politely disagreed on the Bush tax cuts, said that Republicans weren’t the only people with nutty ideas, and suggested that Obama’s budget was “disappointing” in its denial of reality. But there was no forceful pushback of the type one might have gotten from other conservatives.
Rick Hertzberg, meanwhile, appears virtually smitten:
Daniels is unobtrusively friendly. He doesn’t get defensive or suspicious. He is relaxed, and being around him is relaxing. He doesn’t throw off the crackles of craziness—or weirdness or megalomania or suppressed something (rage, fear, insecurity, resentment)—that, to a greater (Palin, Bachmann, Gingrich, Trump, Paul) or lesser (Huckabee, Romney) degree, you get from all the rest. (Huntsman is probably unweird, too, but I haven’t seen enough of him to judge.)
Daniels will be, if not a one-issue candidate, certainly a one-theme candidate, the theme being fiscal responsibility, the deficit, the debt—all that stuff. “My brethren haven’t stepped up,” he said. By this he meant—I’m summarizing, not quoting— that the current G.O.P. candidates (a) haven’t gone after defense spending with any seriousness, if at all, and (b) can’t admit that because deficits occur when expenditures exceed revenues, a bit more of the latter, not just a lot less of the former, might be in order. To be sure, he dismissed Democratic demands for letting rich folks’ income-tax rates revert to pre-Bush levels as bad-for-business “theology,” and he supports the basic Ryan framework of lower marginal rates plus closing (mostly unspecified) loopholes and deductions. But unlike Ryan, who would use all the money from loophole-closing to cut tax rates, Daniels would use some of it to cut deficits. The net result, he claimed, would be more revenues, with the rich paying more, and a larger share, than they do now. Feeble? Perhaps, but he is a Republican.
As a non-attendee, my suspicion is that the pathology of the contemporary GOP would ensure that Daniels would have to kill off any trace of sanity in order to win the nomination. But I am open to the possibility of a pleasant surprise. The Indiana Democratic Party emails this rebuttal to Daniels:
RHETORIC: DANIELS BRAGGED THAT HE HAS “NEVER RAISED TAXES” TO KEEP INDIANA IN THE BLACK
Daniels Bragged That He Has “Never” Had To Raise Taxes To Keep Indiana In The Black. Daniels delivered a speech at the American Enterprise Institute where he discussed education reforms in Indiana and touted the state’s fiscal standing, he said: “Indiana is a state that's in the black with -- always has had reserves and never raised taxes to do it through this recent unpleasantness, we’re AAA credit.” [AEI, Daniels’ Education Speech, 5/4/11]
REALITY: DANIELS RAISED THE SALES TAX AND CIGARETTE TAX…
Ø 2007: Daniels Raised Sales Tax And Cigarette Taxes. [AP , 3/8/11]
Ø Bloomington Herald-Times: The National Media Is Quick To Point Out Daniels’ Tax Cuts But Fail To Mention 17% Increase In Sales Tax Under Daniels. [Bloomington Herald-Times, 2/28/10]
…AND PROPOSED OTHER TAXES
Ø 2005: Daniels Proposed Raising The Income Tax On $100,000 Earners. [Mitch Daniels, 2005 State of the State]
Ø Politico: Daniels May “Come To Regret” Calling For A “Tariff On Imported Oil” In 2010. [Politico, 4/28/11]
o Grover Norquist: “Absent Some Explanation, Such As Large Quantities Of Crystal Meth” Daniels’ Call For A Tariff On Imported Oil Is “Beyond The Pale.” [Politico, 4/28/11]
Ø 2010: Daniels Proposed Raising Taxes On Individuals, Non-Profits And Companies During The Recession. [Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, 2/5/10]
This isn't make me like him any less! I especially like the part about Grover Norquist accusing him of being on crystal meth and beyond the pale. The press release does proceed to accuse Daniels of balancing the budget by shifting costs onto local governments, which does sound bad. Nonetheless, I am prepared to open myself to the possibility of Daniels' sanity.