Mitch Daniels, Mike Huckabee Talk 2012

The Indiana governor and former Arkansas governor appeared on Fox News Sunday to discuss their presidential ambitions.

Two possible Republican presidential contenders for 2012, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, appeared on Fox News Sunday this weekend.

Daniels, who as governor has managed to avert the sort of fiscal catastrophe looming that is in many other states, is in the middle of a stalled legislative session as many Indiana Democrats are in Illinois to avoid having to vote on public-sector reforms.

The opposition originally left the state in protest of a bill that would make Indiana a “right to work” state, allowing employees to opt out of joining a labor union if there is one in their field of work. That bill is dead now but the Democrats have yet to return, citing eleven more bills that they won’t vote on.

Daniels refused to negotiate as long as the Democrats were out of the state. “While they are subverting the democratic process, there is nothing to talk about,” he said, adding: “they ran off to Illinois ostensibly over the right to work bill. But as soon as they got what they wanted there, they issued an ultimatum from a hot tub over there with about ten more items.”

The issue in Indiana is rather a different one from Governor Scott Walker’s legislative effort in Wisconsin. Democratic lawmakers there have also fled the state while unions protest a measure that would strip them of their collective bargaining right. Across the country, Republican governors have taken on public-sector unions which often extract far more generous pay and benefits for their members than workers in the private sector enjoy.

Daniels effectively undercut public-sector unions’ ability to collectively bargain six years ago and has since worked to balance his state’s budget. Since 2004, the 49 other states in the nation increased their debt levels by an average of 40 percent. Indiana has paid down its debt by 40 percent and is one of only nine states to have the highest rating from all three rating agencies. Indiana’s business climate has improved significantly as a result of the governor’s tax cuts. The state has added jobs at twice the national pace.

The governor has been urged by many conservatives to seek his party’s presidential nomination but Daniels told Fox that he hadn’t made a decision yet. According to The New York Times‘ David Brooks, this is the Republican Party’s quandary. “The man who would be the party’s strongest candidate for the presidency is seriously thinking about not running.”

Daniels might not match Barack Obama in grace — “If it comes down to height and hair, I probably wouldn’t do very well,” he told Fox — but could on substance, according to Brooks. “They could have a great and clarifying debate: What exactly are the paramount problems facing the country? What is government’s role in solving them?”

At the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington this month, Daniels characterized America’s national debt as a “new red menace,” urging Republicans to rally voters under the banner of fiscal conservatism despite policy differences they might have with independents.

While the costs of federal entitlement and health-care programs are skyrocketing, few politicians have volunteered concrete policy solutions but Daniels has. When asked what he would do about Social Security, the governor said that he would bifurcate it, raise the age in which people get it, and if someone has a better idea he’d like to hear it. Medicare would be turned into a voucher program.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee may be a more likely contender for the presidency yet he wrote in his latest book, A Simple Government, that he hated the process of campaigning. On Sunday he clarified that remark. “I love campaigning,” he said. “I don’t enjoy what I would call the peripheral of it, which is the part you dread. And the peripheral is you spend so much of your time defending rather than actually going out and talking about issues that you think would make America a great country.”

Huckabee, who attempted to secure the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, harshly criticized Barack Obama in his book, writing, “Just about everything he thinks is good for America is actually bad for our present and worse for our future.”

On Fox News Sunday, he added that the accumulation of debt that has occurred under this administration is horrifying and hampering growth. “I mean, the first rule is, if you’re in a hole, quit digging. If you’re a family and you just lost your job and you’re broke, you don’t go out and go on a spending spree. You start figuring out how to cut your expenses.”

Chris Wallace asked Huckabee about his apparent breach of Ronald Reagan’s “eleventh commandment” which told Republicans not to speak ill of fellow party members. Huckabee has criticized the health-care reform scheme which Mitt Romney enacted as governor of Massachusetts, calling it “socialized medicine.”

Huckabee noted that there’s a difference “in Ronald Reagan saying don’t speak ill of another Republican and don’t evaluate what another Republican’s proposals are” before urging Romney to distance himself from health-care reform. “I don’t have a problem with a governor in any state taking risk, trying something bold,” said Huckabee. “But if it doesn’t work, for heaven’s sakes, let’s not put it in all fifty states.”

Asked whether he’s running for president, Huckabee said that he’s waiting to see how people respond to his book. “This book is my message. This book is what I stand for and what I believe. I want people to say, you know what, that guy has got ideas we can live with. Or maybe they’re going to say this guy is a crazy fool.”