Dear Mitch Daniels: I hate to break this to you, but the way to become the Republican nominee for president is not to do things like this in -- God help us -- Manhattan, at the headquarters of a media outlet named after -- of all people -- Mike Bloomberg:
On Tuesday, at the Gilded Age Upper East Side mansion that houses the nascent Bloomberg View, [Mitch] Daniels lunched with a baker's dozen of journo-pundits ranging politics-wise from rightish (Peggy Noonan, Ramesh Ponnuru) and leftish (Michael Kinsley, Josh Marshall) to neitherish (Mark Halperin), and outlet-wise from mass market (George Stephanopoulos) to niche market (me). 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."
Daniels is in the land of Gun-Grabber Bloomberg? Courting Josh Marshall and Michael Kinsley? (Oh, and the "me" in that passage was Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker. (Yes, The New Yorker.) Doing this to kick off a run for the GOP presidential nomination is, to base voters, like going to a Black Mass at the Church of Satan if you're applying to be the new pastor at the First Baptist Church.
I knew that Daniels was a close friend of Haley Barbour, and that Barbour's decision to stay out of the race was being taken as a sign that his support network would shift to Daniels -- but I didn't realize that Daniels was actually going to run a Barbour-style schmooze-the-mainstream-journalists campaign. I think this tells us that Daniels is going to make Barbour's mistake of failing to use teabag/Fox News rhetoric as well. Thus, he's toast.
I know the counterargument: that the party bigwigs are going to take control of the process away from the crazies any minute now, and that Daniels gives base voters enough red meat as governor of Indiana to sate their appetites. Maybe he'll be the guy who persuades extremists that he's an extremist and centrists that he's a centrist. Today in The New York Times, Gail Collins talks about the bamboozlement:
But about Mitch Daniels. The political world has been abuzz with speculation that he will run for president. Centrist Republicans loved it when he began urging the party to keep its eye on the deficit-reduction prize and stop obsessing about social issues. "Try to concentrate on making ends meet, which Washington obviously has failed to do for a long time, and have other policy debates in other places if you can," he advised.
He then went home and announced that he would sign a bill to strip Planned Parenthood of Medicaid financing....
"The suggestion I made about trying to set aside other issues was made in the national context," Daniels said over a lunch with journalists this week in New York. "I was thinking more broadly than some people heard it."
Actually, Daniels's moderate fans thought abortion was precisely the issue he was calling on Republicans to set aside.
But, see, if you want the wingnut base to vote for you, you've got to make it seem as if you pulled a fast one on us liberal city slickers. You've got to seem to gloat. By contrast, Hertzberg makes it seem as if Daniels is embarrassed by what he's doing -- and that attitude isn't going to sell on the GOP campaign trail:
[Daniels] defended his signing last week of an Indiana bill to defund Planned Parenthood without visible enthusiasm, arguing that there are hundreds of other organizations in the state that provide birth control services.
In debates, Cain and Gingrich and Santorum and Bachmann, and maybe Palin and Huckabee and Trump, will get GOP voters to pump their fists in anger on the evils of Planned Parenthood and a hundred other Antichrists. Even Pawlenty and Romney can pull this off occasionally. If Daniels is uncomfortable about what he's done, and shows it -- while also courting centrist and liberal journalists -- he has no chance.
He might even make a whackjob nominee more likely. Think about it: Right now, Mitt Romney is in the teens to low twenties in most polls -- probably enough to win early multi-candidate contests. But if the non-crazy vote gets split among Romney and Daniels and Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman, doesn't that open the door for a nutjob?
Oh, one more thing about Daniels:
Later Wednesday while in Washington, Daniels was receiving a public service award from The Arab American Institute.
Daniels, you see, is of Syrian descent, as Hertzberg notes. Yes, I know that Arab American Institute is headed by James Zogby, the brother of well-connected pollster John Zogby, whose clients have included Fox News and the New York Post. But, um, James Zogby has also been described as "Democratic activist and Israel foe James Zogby" (in a Commentary article titled "Zogby to Obama: Bleep the Jews"). Do you really think this award (and Daniels's lineage) won't be used against him if he gains traction in the polls?
(Hertzberg link via Politico's Ben Smith.)
UPDATE: In comments, Continental Op notes that Pam Geller has already referred to the group that honored Daniels as the notorious Jew-hating, supremacist organization AAI," and now says, "first stealth jihadists, now limo-liberals tag Mitch Daniels as their man." In the modern, insane GOP, I think she has more divisions than Haley Barbour.