Many who know former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels were taken aback by the Club for Growth‘s decision to launch a jihad against him. In an effort to keep him from running for Indiana’s open Senate seat next year, the ad claims that “Hoosiers need new leadership to tackle the problems that Mitch and other moderates created over 50 years.”
Club for Growth head David McIntosh says Mr. Daniels should be rejected because he represents “an old style of conservatism that caved to Democratic demands too often.” As a conservative governor, Mr. Daniels was widely credited with saving his state from bankruptcy, working successfully to revitalize its economy by cutting regulations, and putting together a tax package that ended up being the biggest tax cut in modern Indiana history.
Mr. McIntosh knows better than to call him a moderate. A staunch conservative elected to Congress in 1994, Mr. McIntosh returned to Indiana in 2000 to run for governor. Mr. Daniels and Mr. McIntosh had worked together in the Reagan administration and were friends back then. Mr. Daniels was one of his most vocal supporters.
Mr. McIntosh lost that race, and the two returned to Washington — Mr. Daniels as then-President George W. Bush’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Mr. McIntosh to practice law. Both zealously advocated cutting regulations and the size of government. Mr. McIntosh was planning to run for governor again in 2004 when Mr. Daniels entered the race with the president’s support.
Mr. Daniels served two terms and was widely hailed as perhaps the nation’s best governor, often mentioned as a potential presidential candidate. Mr. McIntosh tried elective politics once more, running unsuccessfully in a 2012 Republican congressional primary. Now he heads the Club for Growth, which specializes in running Republican conservative primary candidates against opponents the club sees as too moderate. An ideological warrior of the first rank, Mr. McIntosh gives no quarter, specializing in attack ads like the one being aired against his old friend in Indiana.
Mr. Daniels’ obsession is runaway spending and fiscal irresponsibility, a problem that has only worsened since he left politics to become president of Purdue University a decade ago. In his 2011 book, “Keeping the Republic,” he warned that the nation is on a path to almost certain destruction and urged politicians to be honest with voters rather than treating them like children. He believes that voters will rally behind leaders who are honest enough to tell them what is needed to avoid catastrophe.
And that’s what they did in Indiana when Mr. Daniels cut spending in Indiana to pull the state out of the mess he found as governor. Republicans and Democrats alike assumed at the time that he was making himself a one-term governor who could never win reelection because politicians who refuse to pander and instead confront voters with the need to endure hardship are sure losers.
Mr. Daniels proved them wrong. He shared his concerns with the public and won their support. At the dawn of the age of political hyperpartisanship and bombast, Mr. Daniels relied on facts, logic, and persuasion, He reasoned with constituents and adversaries. Like President Ronald Reagan, he treated opponents as adversaries, not enemies. In his campaigns, his team ran more than 90 ads touting his ideas and solutions — without launching a single personal attack on his opponents.
Mr. Daniels‘ insistence on treating voters and later students at Purdue as adults set him apart. He may wonder whether his approach will work today as so many in both parties have opted for ideological warfare and character attacks in lieu of reason and logic and see Mr. Daniels approach as a relic.
Regardless of how one feels about its goals, the Club for Growth relies almost exclusively on personal attacks. Mr. McIntosh says the ads attacking his old friend are designed to persuade Mr. Daniels not to try to reenter the political arena. He must have forgotten a lot about Mr. Daniels, who follows his own convictions. Quiet courage best describes him. He is no screamer, but neither is he cowed by adversaries and critics. While serving as OMB director, he described the motto of the Senate Appropriations Committee as “Don’t just stand there, spend something.”
Mr. Daniels has an abiding faith in the people who make our democracy work and believes that if they are treated as adults, voters and politicians can make the right decisions. Regardless of whether Mr. Daniels runs for the Senate in 2024, today’s politicians would do well to follow his example.
• David Keene is editor-at-large at The Washington Times.