Wargaming a Presidential Campaign For Mitch Daniels

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on February 19, 2011

Steven Hayward–”a huge Mitch Daniels fan,” by his own admission–points to Ronald Reagan as a model for how Daniels can run a successful Presidential campaign that incorporates the “three legs” of economics, social policy, and foreign policy that characterized Reagan’s successful national campaigns. On the other hand, via InstaPundit, Jay Cost shows how Daniels may already be on his way towards establishing a potentially winning coalition:

. . . Obama’s plan is to alter significantly a 50-year status quo on federal levels of taxation and spending; this is contrary to what he promised in 2008, a net spending cut and no new taxes on anybody making more than $250,000 per year. If the country enacts the Obama budget, both of those claims will turn out to be laughably false, and the future will look quite unlike the past, with a vastly expanded public sector, and a proportionally smaller private one. This is why I argued earlier in the week that 2012 is shaping up to be once-in-a-many-generations battle between the “share out” and the “share up.”

Into this battle, Obama brings many unique advantages. We should expect, for instance, that he will continue to do exceptionally well among African Americans, who should turn out in higher numbers than normal to support him. Additionally, he could once again pull strong support from the Hispanic population, considering the similarity of his background to many Hispanics whose parents were not born in the United States. His appeal to the African American and Hispanic communities might have increased the share of the Democratic vote by as many as four and a half points in 2008 (relative to 2004), and if indeed his strength with these groups is personal-based, that is a vote Republicans cannot count on winning back in 2012. In terms of electoral math, that puts the GOP in a squeeze in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina, as well as Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico.

So, like [William Jennings] Bryan, Obama could do uniquely well in places that have a historic Republican tilt to them. On the other hand, his fiscal policies might generate weaknesses in the areas where New Democrat Bill Clinton made serious inroads in the 1990s – places like the Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia suburbs. In these areas, upper middle class voters have gravitated to the Democrats because of their (apparent) fiscal and social moderation. However, increasing the size and scope of the government as Obama envisions will surely be a burden that falls on these New Democrat voters, who decades ago used to back the Republicans in strong numbers. With Obama promising unprecedented levels of spending and taxation, they might be willing to come back to the GOP fold in 2012. Evidence of this possibility came in 2010 when Mark Kirk in Illinois and Pat Toomey and Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania all won statewide victories thanks to solid support from upscale suburbs.

This is why a modern update of [William] McKinley’s “cultural ecumenicalism” might do the Republican Party enormous good, as it could make it easier for these critical suburbanites to come back to the Grand Old Party. And remember, a truce is not the same thing as capitulation. Nor, for that matter, is it a ceding of power to the so-called RINO establishment of the East. Mitch Daniels, after all, is a pro-lifer from Indiana, which has never been part of the elite Eastern GOP club, certainly not what is left of it (which is not very much!). A truce is just a temporary suspension of “hostilities” as culturally conservative and moderate voters recognize that they have the same fiscal interests at stake in the next election.

William McKinley has long been an unsung hero of modern, conservative Republicanism, and it’s high time that the Grand Old Party appreciate his important legacy. Few party leaders have been morethoroughly Republican than he — and if he was prepared to call a cultural truce to strengthen the anti-Bryan coalition, just how bad of an idea can it be for next year’s battle with Obama?

I hope that Daniels will give us a coherent and compelling foreign policy vision to accompany his coherent and compelling economic platform. Of course I am interested in how Daniels views social issues, but I am also aware that when voters are concerned about the economy and national security, an emphasis on social issues simply does not serve to draw as many votes from the populace as does an emphasis on economic and national security issues.

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