Currently, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is being billed as a genuine conservative who can defeat Barack Obama, reform the federal government, and balance the budget. Yet a close examination of the governor's record and statements reveals that he is actually a strident liberal who cannot be taken seriously.
It has frequently been said about Mitch Daniels that he "turned deficits into surpluses" as governor. The only problem with this claim is that it's not true. According to the CNBC/Forbes.com, which annually ranks states according to business climate, Indiana has a $1.4-billion budget deficit as of FY2011.
That same CNBC/Forbes.com list ranked Indiana as barely 21st out of 50 states -- i.e. in the middle of the peloton, trailing Democrat-run states such as Massachusetts and Washington. Indiana is 42nd in terms of the quality of its workforce, 44th in quality of life, 26th in access to capital, and 22nd in technology and innovation. In only three categories does Indiana make it to the top ten: the cost of doing business, infrastructure (mostly due to federal infrastructure programs), and business friendliness.
This is how badly Indiana ranked in late 2010, more than five years after Daniels was sworn in as governor. A state that ranks 44th in terms of quality of life? No, thanks.
When Daniels was director of the OMB, he performed equally miserably: he turned budget surpluses (America's first since FY1969) into deficits. He also oversaw the enactment and funding of the No Child Left Behind Act, the prescription drug entitlement, and increases of funding for the ED and the DOT, as well as the reinstatement of farm subsidies (which were largely abolished in 1996 under the Freedom to Farm Act) and the creation of ethanol subsidies (later increased by his successors). Daniels' response to the OMB's critics was that a balanced budget "is not the highest priority." The deficit continued to grow during Daniels' entire tenure, and it peaked in FY2004 at $400 billion under the last budget devised by Daniels. It was later reduced to $162 billion in FY2007 by his successors.
During the 1980s, Ronald Reagan proposed to abolish the Department of Education entirely to reduce the budget deficit and allow states to manage their own education affairs. In the 2000s, President Bush and Mitch Daniels greatly increased the Department of Education's budget and the degree of federal involvement in education. And the results are dismal: the high school dropout rate, for example is 30%.
Daniels started the year 2011 with a good idea -- a proposed right-to-work law -- and then backed down after Democrats boycotted the state legislature. But Daniels needs to realize that if he's elected president, Democrats will often behave this way; they will not hesitate to do anything to sabotage conservative policies and the democratic political process. How can conservatives trust such a man if he backs down under Democratic pressure? When air traffic controllers went on strike, Ronald Reagan sacked them all.
"My man Mitch" also believes in anthropogenic global warming and that humanity needs to act urgently to stop it. As documented at AT and elsewhere, including in numerous books, anthropogenic global warming is a fraud designed to transfer vast sums of wealth from developed countries to developing ones and from urban American taxpayers to Midwestern farmers. Daniels also supports a tax on imported oil, which would only hike gasoline prices.
Daniels has called for a "truce" on social issues. Of course, 95% of liberals' social agenda has already been enacted. Abortion on demand is the law of the land. The DOMA has been overturned by activist judges. Euthanasia is already legal in one state. The DADT law has been repealed by Congress. All states now have no-fault divorce laws coupled with alimony and child support payment requirements, thus disincentivizing American men from marrying. So what Daniels actually wants, if anything, is conservatives' capitulation to liberals in the social sphere.
Most worrisome is Daniels' call for deep defense cuts, which would be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Daniels claims that in the face of huge budget deficits, nothing, including defense, can or should avoid cuts. But he's actually giving people a false choice between a strong defense and a balanced budget; the truth is that the two are not mutually exclusive.
Cicero said that "the budget should be balanced [and] the treasury should be filled." As of FY2011, annual federal tax revenue is $2.173 trillion, whereas federal expenditures total $3.8 trillion, so there's a deficit of almost $1.7 trillion. Nonetheless, there is sufficient annual revenue ($2.173 trillion) to pay for the entire military budget (not just the core defense budget, but also the GWOT supplemental) and for other, minor constitutional functions of the federal government (the DOS, the DOJ, the USPS, etc.). There isn't, however, enough revenue to finance a government that tries to be all things to be all people.
A wise policymaker doesn't impose huge across-the-board cuts without looking at what he's cutting. He sets priorities, defends them, and dispenses with non-priority programs and agencies when necessary. If the federal government does this, the budget will be balanced. This will require setting priorities and closing all non-priority/unnecessary/wasteful programs and agencies.
Daniels has ignored the fact that defense cuts would lead to a weaker military and thus to a less safe America. Most of the military's equipment is obsolete and worn out, modernization spending is inadequate, and America's enemies are arming themselves to the teeth, yet Daniels wants to cut a defense budget that is already insufficient ($516 billion under the ConRes, H. R. 1.; the rest is for the GWOT) -- a path that makes light of the warnings of Secretary Gates.
Defense cuts would save little money in the short term and zero money in the long term, as they would weaken the military and embolden America's enemies to engage in blackmail or even aggression against America or its allies. Then the U.S. would either have to rearm and fight a war invited by weakness or do nothing and suffer the consequences. Both options would be much more expensive than providing sufficient funding for defense now. How any "fiscal conservative" can support anything else is a mystery.
Mitch Daniels is not a conservative; he's a liberal. He would be a bad nominee and an even worse president (though, fortunately, he stands no chance of winning). Nominating him would be a betrayal of every conservative principle the GOP used to stand for.