Mitch Daniels: We need a "truce" on social issues to concentrate on our fiscal crisis

Alternate headline: “Mitch Daniels’s dark-horse presidential bid dead on arrival.” Here’s what he told the Weekly Standard per the profile Ed flagged yesterday:

Beyond the debt and the deficit, in Daniels’s telling, all other issues fade to comparative insignificance. He’s an agnostic on the science of global warming but says his views don’t matter. “I don’t know if the CO2 zealots are right,” he said. “But I don’t care, because we can’t afford to do what they want to do. Unless you want to go broke, in which case the world isn’t going to be any greener. Poor nations are never green.”

And then, he says, the next president, whoever he is, “would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues. We’re going to just have to agree to get along for a little while,” until the economic issues are resolved. Daniels is pro-life himself, and he gets high marks from conservative religious groups in his state. He serves as an elder at the Tabernacle Presbyterian Church, in inner-city Indianapolis, which he’s attended for 50 years.

John McCormack pressed him to elaborate on what he meant by a “truce” and Daniels couldn’t offer any specifics. (“Everybody just stands down for a little while, while we try to save the republic.”) Enter evangelical leader Tony Perkins to lower the boom:

“Not only is he noncommittal about his role as a pro-life leader, but the governor wouldn’t even agree to a modest step like banning taxpayer-funded promotion of abortion overseas — which [former] President Bush did on his first day in office with 65% of the country’s support. Let’s face it. These aren’t fringe issues that stretch moderate America. They’re mainstream ideals that an overwhelming majority of the nation espouses. I support the governor 100% on the call for fiscal responsibility, but nothing is more fiscally responsible than ending the taxpayer funding of abortion and abortion promotion. More than 70% of our nation agrees that killing innocent unborn children with federal dollars is wrong. Yet stopping government-funded murder isn’t a “genuine national emergency?” We cannot “save the republic,” in Gov. Daniels’ words, by killing the next generation. Regardless of what the establishment believes, fiscal and social conservatism have never been mutually exclusive. Without life, there is no pursuit of happiness. Thank goodness the Founding Fathers were not timid in their leadership; they understood that “truce” was nothing more than surrender.”

Other religious conservatives are piling on too: “Something like this will cost him any consideration from one of the key constituencies of the Republican Party,” says the president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. Ramesh Ponnuru is right that Daniels is kidding himself if he thinks he can avoid these landmines as president — the first Supreme Court vacancy will thrust him right into the middle of it — and it’s amazingly tone-deaf for an aspiring nominee to propose a “truce” on abortion given how many pro-lifers equate it with murder. But even so, I’m sympathetic to his willingness to prioritize America’s entitlements crisis over everything else, even at the expense of alienating a core wing of the GOP. The hard lesson that Republicans seem to have to learn and re-learn is that, thanks to Roe, there’s not much a GOP president and Congress can do legislatively about abortion, in which case why not temporarily de-emphasize it as a political issue if it’ll buy crucial centrist votes needed to redress a fiscal emergency? (In fact, isn’t that an unstated assumption of the tea-party movement? “Yes, foreign policy and social issues are important, but economic stability is now Job One.”) Unless Daniels means that he’s willing to compromise on a pro-choice Supreme Court nominee, which would be pure political suicide, I’m not sure which social issue he’s supposed to be willing to go to the wall for even if it means detonating a potential political compromise with Democrats to reform social security and Medicare. If McConnell and Boehner come to President Daniels and say they’ve got the votes for a balanced-budget amendment but in return the Dems want the Defense of Marriage Amendment repealed, Daniels is supposed to tell them to hit the bricks?

Sounds to me like what he’s really saying is that we should accept the status quo, whatever it may be, on social issues until entitlements are back on the path to solvency. As for abortion, I suspect his way of squaring the circle will be to argue that, in fact, because fiscal solvency is priority one and because we need lots of young workers to support our federal Ponzi schemes, the moral argument for opposing abortion is actually a very sensible economic argument too. Exit question one: Is this guy done for, assuming he ever had a chance to begin with? Exit question two: He’s pretty much a textbook example of the sort of candidate who’d benefit from a California-style free-for-all primary, isn’t he?