Mitch Daniels for President?

The Indiana governor is a small government conservative who may be able to challenge President Obama in the 2012 election.

With Barack Obama’s approval rating plummeting, his reelection in doubt and his party expecting to lose many congressional seats in the upcoming midterm elections, Republicans have to start thinking ahead. One possible nominee for the 2012 presidential election is Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, former Director of the Office of Management and Budget under George W. Bush.

Part of what makes Daniels attractive to Republicans, according to Newsweek, is “his record of competence and fiscal restraint” which “represents a refreshing change of pace from George W. Bush’s “big government” conservatism.”

After five years in the statehouse, admirers point out, Daniels has managed to lower property taxes by an average of 30 percent; transform a $200 million budget deficit into a $1.3 billion surplus; and insure 45,000 low-income Hoosiers through a budget neutral combination of health savings accounts and catastrophic coverage. His approval ratings routinely top 65 percent.

The governor, who, in his own state, passed a health-care plan that provides coverage to over 130,000 otherwise uninsured residents, has been critical of President Obama’s reform agenda. The Healthy Indiana Plan is focused on prevention and paid for entirely by a raise in tobacco taxes. Obamacare, by contrast, “perpetuates and magnifies all the worst aspects of our current system,” according to Daniels, writing for the Heritage Foundation this summer — “fee for service reimbursement, ‘free’ to the purchaser consumption, and an irrationally expensive medical liability tort system. It’s a sure recipe for yet more overconsumption and overspending,” he complained. What’s more, “first and foremost amongst the bill’s consequences will be the probable demise of the Healthy Indiana Plan.”

Indiana’s health-care plan showed that “typical Americans are neither too dense nor too intimidated to make sound decisions about their own health,” according to Daniels — something he believes was either overlooked or blatantly ignored by Democrats.

Daniels hasn’t been been afraid to allow for greater personal freedom in other areas as well. By cutting red tape and complex taxes, he has made Indiana more attractive to businesses and the state is currently leading in private-sector job growth.

Again, on the national level, the choices have been very different. What’s holding back job creation, wrote Daniels in The Wall Street Journal, is the administration’s “big government” approach. “Drowning in new or pending regulations and taxes, businesses, banks and investors are understandably sitting on dollars that could be putting Americans to work,” he stressed. His solution? Cut taxes, cut spending, and stop writing new laws that affect business. “With or without Democratic help,” he added, “Republicans should step forward with these or superior ideas.”

By explicitly framing his policy solutions as bold and refreshing, Daniels preemptively contests the now all too familiar notion professed by the other side; that Republicans are “without ideas” and just saying “no” to everything Democrats do. Daniels’ answers may be Reaganesque but a rejuvenated sense of constitutional conservatism is precisely what the Republican Party needs.

A pro-life Christian, Daniels is no fanatic about it. He told The Weekly Standard that the next president will “have to call a truce on the so-called social issues,” referring to abortion and gay marriage, for instance, at least until the nation’s economic problems are resolved. The reason? “If the country goes broke, it would ruin the American dream for everyone,” he told The Washington Post. “We are in this together. Whatever our honest disagreements on other questions, might we set them aside long enough to do some very difficult things without which we will be a different, lesser country?”