"Truce" over: Mitch Daniels supports reinstating Mexico City policy on abortion

That was fast. So, in the span of about a week, he’s gone from being a guy with a Ron Paul problem, i.e. a tad more forgiving about “values” issues than many social cons are comfortable with, to being a guy with a Mitt Romney problem, i.e. appearing opportunistic on what social cons regard as matters of utmost moral principle.

Note how quickly this reversal was made.

“I would reinstate the Mexico City policy,” Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told me, removing an uncertainty of his own creation. Promoting abortion with international family planning funds is one of “a thousand things we shouldn’t be spending money on.”

Yet days earlier, when asked if he would return to that family planning rule as president, Daniels had responded: “I don’t know.” It is a measure of Daniels’ standing as a possible Republican candidate in 2012 that his answer caused a considerable stir. Social conservatives criticized his idea that a “truce” on divisive, culture war controversies might be required to deal with “survival issues” such as terrorism and debt…

Daniels’ rigorous, detail-oriented focus on economic issues has earned him a favorable buzz among conservative intellectuals and commentators.
Social conservatives have been more skeptical, feeling their deepest commitments might be set aside for the duration of a culture war “truce.” In fact, Daniels’ pro-life record is strong. The main problem with his truce proposal is not its moderation but its naivete. Just how would avoiding fights on unrelated social issues make Democratic legislators more likely to vote for broad budget cuts and drastic entitlement reforms? Daniels admits, “No one may take the offer. … But I’m not prepared to give up on the idea we can address this thing. If we can’t — well, the cynics were right. But somebody has to try.”

I asked that last question myself a few days ago. The issue isn’t whether turning down the heat on social issues will increase bipartisanship generally; the issue is whether it will increase bipartisanship on the entitlements crisis, which is (rightly) the subject of Daniels’s obsession. And there’s no reason to think that it would given that congressional Democrats care a lot more about entitlements than they do social issues. Is there any “values” matter on the American political landscape besides abortion (which isn’t susceptible to legislation anyway) that means so much to the left that they’d trade social security or Medicare to get their way on it? They were willing to sacrifice their House majority this year to pass ObamaCare, knowing full well that each new federal entitlement deepens the culture of dependency and operates as a further paradigm shift towards European-style statism. They’re not stupid. Shaking hands with them on gay marriage isn’t going to get them to give up on the dream.

Speaking of not being stupid, Daniels’s big selling point among the conservative commentariat is supposed to be his smarts. Where were those smarts, exactly, in this running “truce” saga? First he floats an incendiary idea without offering any specifics; then he backtracks on it after social cons predictably call him out; and meanwhile, as Michael Gerson notes up above, the whole notion of a “truce” happening in the name of fiscal harmony is actually exceedingly naive given the two parties’ divergent interests in sustaining the welfare-state model. When do the “smarts” kick in?