I have all the respect in the world for Leon Wolf, who is a pal, but I have to take issue with this post, in which he states that Mitch Daniels’s sense of politics is for Republicans to “just be nice so that people will like us again.” With all due respect to Leon–who is one of my favorite writers around–I think that Philip Klein–who responds to Jennifer Rubin–is much closer to the mark on this issue:
At one point in the June 2009 speech to the Ripon Society, Daniels said, “The whole concept of a wedge issue should be foreign to us if we really want to come back.”
Because of this, Rubin wrote a post headlined, “Mitch Daniels: No issues the Democrats don’t like.”
[. . .]
All he was saying in the part of the speech Rubin highlighted is that Republicans should try to appeal to average Americans by being more likable and emphasizing issues that unite more people. In the rest of the speech, he rejected the idea that Americans were ready to embrace statism and noted that the public’s suspicion of government and fear of deficits was at an all time high and that the Republican message could succeed in that environment.
“There is absolutely nothing flawed about the principles that either Ripon or Republicanism generally has always stood for,” Daniels said. “And I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because it’s an open question. People are writing about it all the time. ‘Have Americans embraced the new statism, (do they) have a new receptiveness to statism?’ I don’t think so.”
He continued: “American suspicion of bigness, whether it’s government, business or labor, I don’t think has diminished. If we are a party of individual rights, small business, competition, I think we’ll still get a receptive ear.”
[. . .]
“The American people’s skepticism about debt and deficits I think is at an all time high, not only because of what they’re seeing in the public sector – most states, the federal government – but think about their lives,” he said. “Americans just came through a period where either they or their neighbors, or a business they were involved in, saved too little, borrowed too much, spent too much, didn’t work out too well. That door is about to be thrown wide open by the policies of this administration.”
[. . .]
“I just do not see in Americans today, the young people in particular, an embrace of collectivism, of statism,” Daniels said. “Quite the contrary. Almost to a fault, they insist on individual choice and almost limitless freedom. And I don’t think they’re going to be naturally herded together by government however charismatically it is presented. Into unions, or mass transit, or in any other fashion that infringes on what they see as their God-given right to make their own choices.”
Keep in mind that at the time he was making these remarks, there was plenty of reason for GOP pessimism — Obama’s approval rating was still at a resilient 60 percent it was several months before Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell had won their governorships.
None of this strikes me as a Republican who is willing to defer on major issues to Democrats, and who advises other Republicans to be milquetoasts in political fights.