Not only will he happily run as an establishment favorite, he might even show you his big-name Republican autograph collection. Damn.

“If I were to decide to do this, we would have an unbelievable letterhead,” Daniels predicted in a POLITICO interview Wednesday, lighting up as the hour-long conversation turned to why he could win.

“I don’t know if we’d raise the most, but for whatever reason, there are an awful lot of people standing by who I think know how to do this a lot better than I do,” he said, noting that he’s being pushed to run by an array of business types and political figures…

He wouldn’t say it, but those who have spoken to him indicate Daniels doesn’t see anyone in the current GOP field focused on the fiscal issues that motivate him. If such a person doesn’t emerge — and Daniels said he’ll announce his decision “no later” than May and potentially in April — the chances of him running will increase…

“We have to do a lot of things [fiscally] that all the political wise guys said were impossible, grab these third rails and so forth,” he argued. “I’m an optimist that people, that the American people will support doing what is necessary, once they understand the facts.

I’m an optimist about that too, but only because the possibility that they won’t support doing what’s necessary even after they do understand the facts is too terrifying to grapple with.

When asked what sort of “broad spectrum” of people he expects to draw his support from, here’s what he said. Quote:

“Political figures and business people,” he said, “you know, thought leaders. Even at this late date, that would not be a stopper.”

He’s not off-base about that — remember this Politico piece from a few weeks ago? — but if there’s any single phrase more ill-suited to the bottom-up populist independence on the right at the moment than “thought leaders,” I’d love to know what it is. (“Truce on social issues,” maybe?)

Exit question: Grassroots conservatives will laugh at Daniels cultivating the candy-ass RINO establishment for his campaign, but what does he have to lose? I made this same point yesterday vis-a-vis Romney’s cynical revisions to his new book. The base obviously isn’t going to back him in the primaries, so there’s no sense pandering to them. Better to focus on the many, many centrist Republicans out there for whom electability is a key issue and use big-name endorsements to get their attention. In fact, although some Republicans grumble about Palin hogging the spotlight among right-wing media, one useful side effect of that for moderates like Daniels is that it raises awareness of polls measuring her own electability, especially head-to-head against Obama. The more dire those numbers are, the more even those who might prefer her to the Daniels types in the primary will feel pressure to vote strategically. “Say what you will about Karl Rove,” Mitch the Knife might say, “but at least he knows how to win national elections.” Not a message that’ll win him fans among the grassroots, but not necessarily a losing message either.