Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 5, 2011

SOFT BIGOTRY, LOW EXPECTATIONS.... The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg noted yesterday that Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) was in Manhattan on Tuesday -- at a "Gilded Age Upper East Side mansion," no less -- and had lunch with 13 journo-pundits, including Peggy Noonan, Ramesh Ponnuru, Michael Kinsley, Josh Marshall, Mark Halperin, and George Stephanopoulos. It went fairly well.

Afterward, the informal consensus of the leftish contingent was summed up in this exchange:

"If we have to have a Republican..."

"...this one seems like he'd be better than the others."

It's remarkable how common this is. Dana Milbank noted that Daniels was in D.C. yesterday, delivering a speech on education policy, and coming across as the Republicans' "alternative to scary."

As best as I can tell, Dana Goldstein was one of the few -- if not, the only -- media professional to actually scrutinize the substance of what Daniels had to say about education policy. Her conclusion: his agenda is "somewhat misguided."

But at this point, given Daniels' apparent interest in the presidential race, substantive critiques are taking a back seat to electoral considerations. For now, that means political observers sizing him up as a national contender.

What's striking, though, is how far standards have fallen. Mitch Daniels is presented as the thinking voter's Republican because (a) he speaks in complete sentences; (b) right or wrong, he seems to take policy more seriously than Romney, Pawlenty, & Co.; (c) he's the "non-threatening" Republican who doesn't behave like a "public clown"; and (d) one can listen to his speeches without reaching for the Maalox bottle.

Is now a good time to note that the bar should be set much higher?

Mitch Daniels claims to care primarily about fiscal issues, but his record as Bush's budget director is utterly humiliating. He claims to have no use for hot-button social issues and prefers a culture war "truce," but just announced his support to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood clinics in Indiana, leaving untold thousands of Hoosier families without access to preventive health care.

Maybe none of this matters. Republican primary voters probably won't care much that Daniels is loved by D.C. pundits and was deemed acceptably charming at a luncheon on the Upper East Side. Indeed, just the opposite is true -- the GOP base seems likely to resent him for this sort of thing.

But it still amazes me that much of the establishment is willing to perceive Daniels as The Great Republican Hope, is large part because the existing field is so wretched.

Steve Benen 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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What makes anyone think that these people are the ones he has to sell himself to?
Peggy Noonan???

Posted by: hornblower on May 5, 2011 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

"in large part because the existing field is so wretched."

Sadly, that also makes him an outcast in his own party. He'll have to do the "Donald Trump" thing to get any traction.

Posted by: Mark-NC on May 5, 2011 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know how Bush's former budget director can even show his face in public after that debacle.

Posted by: cynicalgirl on May 5, 2011 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

the leftish contingent ???

The Village Keepers of the Common Wisdom more like it.

Posted by: martin on May 5, 2011 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

You are not allowed to be a member of the political journalism establishment and believe, much less say, that the Republican party has become an organization for sociopaths driven either by greed, religious fanaticism, deep problems with human sexuality, or all of the above.

Posted by: JMG on May 5, 2011 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

Daniels stripped public employees bargaining rights HIS FIRST DAY IN OFFICE. He sold the Indiana Toll Road to a consortium of private (foreign) investors.

He is swinging far right now to garner support, and will move to the center later. He has no principles.

Posted by: msmolly on May 5, 2011 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

And what does Daniels do when push comes to shove? Did he ever stand up for fiscal principles during the Bush years? We all know, now, what Obama does when the crunch comes.

Posted by: MattF on May 5, 2011 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Mitch, the little Conservative bitch, is a bald guy about the size of a Munchkin and with all the charisma of cottage cheese.

Maybe if you ran him with Krispy Kreme Christie, the fat blowhard from NJ, that would toughen him up some in the publics eyes.

Nah, the two of them standing next to one another would remind everyone of Laurel and Hardy.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on May 5, 2011 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

We need a term similar to "Overton Window." "Moronic Hateful Shit-Head Window" is a pretty accurate description, but it will be hard to get that into mainstream discourse.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on May 5, 2011 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

If this guy has noticed in the last three weeks what Obama has done to Paul Ryan, Donald Trump and Osama Bin Laden...and he comes to the conclusion that he wants to be next...I'd argue that he's not as sane as he appears.

Posted by: Mark on May 5, 2011 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

martin has it right -- they're meeting to decide on the Meme so from now on they don't have to think very hard. Remember McCain the Maverick, Gore the Wooden Man Who Invented the Internet, etc. etc.

Posted by: Heidi on May 5, 2011 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

That ANY of these pathetic creatures are listened to, let alone transcribed, says a good deal about the miserable condition of the Fourth Estate.
"Journalists" have discovered that saying as little as possible that could be construed in any way controversial- or thought provoking-is a sure way to keep their jobs, keep getting invited to A List soirees, and have their phone calls returned.

Posted by: DAY on May 5, 2011 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Mitch Daniels:

He's actually smart enough to be wrong!

Not sure that has legs.

Posted by: snoey on May 5, 2011 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you for this, Steve. I read Hertzberg's account yesterday and couldn't believe how easily he allowed himself to be charmed by this guy. It was scarily reminiscent of the John McCain bamboozlement - journalists who convinced themselves that he was a "different kind of Republican" largely based on their projections of what was in his heart, regardless of what he actually said and did.

Posted by: bobbo on May 5, 2011 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

The party line will be something like,"Just as President Bush ended the Clinton recession and balanced the budget, his Budget Director, GG0ov. Daniels, will fix the Obama recession and curb the runaway spending of the Democrats."

Posted by: rea on May 5, 2011 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

This clown ended public employee bargaining several years ago. There was just no coverage of it. He has now made it possible for about 60% of students in the state to be paid to attend religious schools. This would literally end public education in the state.

Posted by: pat meaney on May 5, 2011 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Mitch Daniels may be the LEAST likely GOP nominee next year, with apologies to fruntrnner in that category Herman Cain). The rubes don't have a clue who he is and when they find out he cares more about policy than feeding them red meat, they'll tune him out in a heartbeat. The guy is running a structural charisma deficit, and he's running in a party that worships ignorance and idiocies like Birtherism. Good going, Villagers. Next savior, please.

Posted by: walt on May 5, 2011 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

Under Governor Daniels children adopted from Indiana DCS foster care who don't qualify for federal Title IV-E funding get a promise of subsidy some day in the future when there is enough funds in the budget. These are children who meet the state definition of special needs. This has been the case since mid 2009 (at least July 2009), the are over 500 children on this wait list (State Adoption Subsidy (SAS)). No other state, including Mississippi and Minnesota have a wait list for children who meet the state definition of special needs but do not meet the eligibility requirements for federal funding.

I call this SAS program the Wimpy subsidy program, we will pay you a subsidy some year in the future for an adoption today.

Not only that, DCS transferred $40 million from its budget to pay for pensions, which was legal, but without consultation of the General Assembly and while not having enough funds to pay for SAS kids.

Posted by: EndTheEcho on May 5, 2011 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

But it still amazes me that much of the establishment is willing to perceive Daniels as The Great Republican Hope

Me, too -- to the extent of not one but two tongue baths on even-the-liberal NPR this very week -- which of course glossed right over the history of Mitch "Deficits" Daniels as one of the principle architects of our current fiscal problem and highlighting his stance as a "fiscal hawk." Feh.

Posted by: Gregory on May 5, 2011 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

'So Mitch, how DID you manage to destroy the U.S. economy?'

Did any of those somewhat left leaning 'journalists' bother to ask that question?

Posted by: SW on May 5, 2011 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

I am very disappointed in Josh Marshall, if this is true of him.

Especially he was the architect of the Bush budget disasters.

Posted by: jjm on May 5, 2011 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Some really good points in these comments but I didn't see anyone mention the property tax/school funding reduction that caused chaos in school districts across the state and will be exacerbated by the new cuts to public school funding because of Daniels' new voucher legislation. Ruining the American economy was not enough of an achievement; he wants to ruin public school education too.

Posted by: ann from indiana on May 5, 2011 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

Daniels is a nobody outside DC and his home state. One thing about the TeaParty is that it really likes the High-Profile Blowhard. Daniels is not in that category....yet. For him to have any hope of the nomination, he'll need to enter now and tack hard to the right immediately, even if he ends up moving more moderate. His problem is that he's currently far outnumbered by high-profile Blowhards that everyone knows. He'd be johnny-come-lately.
OR he could attack both the hard line TeaParty and the Blowhards Right Now and doesnt' stop. Tell the truth - call them out. Then he'd be the alternative. Start now Mitch, or go home.

Posted by: T2 on May 5, 2011 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

So instead of sitting around in their cushy NY lunch spot, maybe some of these so called "journalists" could do some real digging. I think this has been covered some in Indiana, but the whole tollroad leasing this smelled fishy to me. Who now has a lease on the Indaina tollway, for 75 yrs or so? Why, an Australian-Spanish consortium, originally Macquarie- Cintra. But, Macquarie [the Australian group] was restructured because they had some cash flow issues, and I think the interest in Indiana tollway passed to InToll, or maybe Bluejay Roads; but that is ok, because the Canadian Pension Board didn't like something that InToll was doing, so now InToll is restructuring.

Cintra was bought by Ferrovial, a Spanish conglomerate in transport infrastructure, whos mission is to build shareholder value via intelligent transport management...

So, when the tolls go up, good people of Indiana, don't bother going to an elected rep; nor the gov, nor the transport department. Book a flight to Madrid, or Australia, and complain there.

So Mitch "I screwed the US with GWB" Daniels is cutting deals with various firms to manage your roads. Makes a guy feel safe, eh?? I love the private sector. But, when you sell stuff to the private sector, their job is to make money for their investors.

Posted by: bigtuna on May 5, 2011 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

Look... he's not drooling! That's so Presidential!


Posted by: Zorro on May 5, 2011 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

Josh Marshall? The "leftish contingent"??? Is this sarcasm?

Posted by: Squeaky McCrinkle on May 5, 2011 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

"...But it still amazes me that much of the establishment is willing to perceive Daniels as The Great Republican Hope, is large part because the existing field is so wretched...."-Benen

Precisely. One cannot be too incompetent, ignorant or crazy to be a GOP presidential candidate. The dumbing down of America is nowhere more apparent than the GOP. Rabble rousers are so much more successful when the crowd is uneducated and misinformed. It's why our last Hee-Haw president gained popularity over knowledgeable candidates as we now know the cowboy-rancher persona was just phony presentation.

It's difficult to find a republican in the current GOP field with an ounce of integrity. Nearly everything they represent is a lie and misrepresentation or misinformation.

Our 2 party system in reality consists of 1)conservadems and 2)progressive dems. The GOP went over the crazy cliff

Posted by: bjobotts on May 5, 2011 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

Josh Marshall, eh?

Posted by: kc on May 5, 2011 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

Add Rachel Maddow, Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald, Keith Olbermann ... now you've got a left-ish panel.

I find it infuriating and lazy how anything other than the Republicans is so often labelled "left".

Posted by: ChicagoRob on May 5, 2011 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

The divide in the GOP is between those who believe what they are saying and those who know it's nonsense but say it anyway. Put Daniels and Pawlenty in the second category. Their pundit-exemplar is David Brooks. Their great models of service are not Ronald Reagan (despite the requisite kneels in his direction) but folks like David Stockman, Paul Laxalt, and John Tower - smart people who knew better but sold the odious GOP agenda with 'seriousness' and some sort of policy credibility denied more colorful characters in the right-wing fold. However, just being polite, understated, and seemingly more decent than the obvious jerks in the party is not a guarantee of good sense. If the numbers don't add up, they don't add up. (See Paul Ryan, for example.) Having a few spreadsheets and the ability to speak in coherent English does not make a bad policy pitch any less bad. It just makes it easier to understand, even if it is as lacking in credibility as the latest Palin Tweet. Palin does not know any better. Daniels does. Who deserves greater shame?

Posted by: wesfromGA on May 5, 2011 at 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

The SHORTER candidate DOES NOT WIN...

Posted by: jlt on May 6, 2011 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK
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