Mitch Daniels: Pro-life legislation is okay as long as it doesn't "get in the way"

He was talking specifically about a bill pending in the Indiana state legislature, not proposing a new federal “truce” on social issues, but even so, this guy must understand that he’s under a microscope now that he’s being touted as a presidential contender, right? Every utterance is significant, and he’s already got not one but two strikes against him. Is he trying to scare social cons? I can kinda sorta understand that as a primary strategy, if you think there are enough centrist Republicans out there (or at least, anti-social-con Republicans) to push you through to the nomination, but you need to retain some basic goodwill among the base for the general election. Animosity towards Obama will get most of them to turn out for the GOP nominee no matter who it is, but the more he keeps jabbing this way, the more defectors there’ll be. Especially if Christian conservative leaders start raising alarms about him.

Seriously, what is he doing here? Is this evidence that he’s not running after all?

He told 6News in Indianapolis that conservatives in the state legislature can move forward with pro-life legislation so long as it doesn’t distract from the economic and education-related legislation he prefers to push.

“As long as it doesn’t get in the way of the really crucial (objectives) — keeping Indiana in the black, improving our economy and bringing big reform to things like education. As long as it doesn’t get in the way of that, there’s plenty of time and capacity,” Daniels said.

Daniels also told 6News that his call for a truce was not aimed at the Indiana state legislature, but Congress.

“I was answering questions about the nation’s situation, which I think is very grave in terms of our economic and financial future. I said the priorities ought to be there,” Daniels added.

This reminds me of DeMint offhandedly saying that you can’t be a fiscal conservative without being a social conservative. It’s sloppy insofar as it’s guaranteed to alienate a core constituency who hears it, but DeMint can be excused because he (probably) isn’t running for president and, even though he’s pandering, he’s at least pandering to a group that’s crucial to GOP turnout, fundraising, and GOTV. Daniels seems either to be calculating that he can galvanize centrists to the point where they’ll make up for any loss of social cons, or he’s simply so poor a retail politician that he can’t avoid stepping on landmines that other candidates have little trouble navigating. That should be troubling even to non-social-cons (like me), since it raises the possibility of Daniels making some sort of destructive gaffe in the middle of the general campaign. Which, ironically for a candidate whom many are touting as the anti-Palin, means he potentially shares a weakness with her — namely, the perception that he might ultimately be unelectable.

Exit question: Remind me again why conservative voters should prefer Daniels to Mike Pence? Daniels has executive experience and is regarded as wonkier than Pence is, but Pence is well respected by both sides of the conservative base and has a decade of congressional service under his belt.