Mitch Daniels: the taciturn conservative star ascending

Glenn Beck often spends his television time praising Calvin Coolidge, one of the quieter and more modest American Presidents of the 20th century.  Are we ready for another man of quiet mien as a presidential candidate?  Three months ago, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels stopped denying interest in running for the top job, and as Politico’s Andy Barr reports, a recent Weekly Standard profile has people considering the two-term conservative swing-state governor as an antidote for incompetence:

With a Wall Street Journal op-ed, an admiring Weekly Standard cover story and an upcoming Washington high-dollar fundraiser, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is slowly stepping into the 2012 presidential spotlight, even as he insists he isn’t looking to run.

In a wide open field, the GOP governor’s name keeps popping up despite the fact that — unlike many other potential candidates — he hasn’t aggressively promoted himself. Daniels hasn’t recently visited Iowa or New Hampshire, and his name isn’t always surveyed by national pollsters looking at the prospective field.

Daniels, however, has a following among those Republicans more focused on budget cuts than abortion and attracted to business acumen rather than ideology.

The knock on Daniels is that he’s not charismatic enough to play in the national spotlight.  Some worry that running a technocrat rather than an inspiring and charismatic speaker will leave too many people cold and searching for someone more entertaining, at the least.  Barack Obama won, they argued, by pouring on charm and charisma, especially in the Democratic primaries, beating substance with style.

To an extent, that’s true.  However, the American electorate was thoroughly exhausted with the Bush administration by the time 2008 arrived, and the financial collapse would have put the election out of reach of even a charismatic Republican candidate.  Obama didn’t especially charm anyone in the general election campaign but managed to maintain an air of moderation and emotional distance from the fighting in which his partisans and John McCain’s partisans engaged.  He was helped in no small measure by a national media that sent dozens of reporters to Wasilla but never explored Obama’s own lack of experience or executive competence.

Those factors will not be in play in 2012.  So far, this administration has managed to lurch from one incompetent performance to the next, and the media has finally begun to notice it.  In response, Obama has abandoned his cool, intellectual image to play, as Allahpundit coined it, “Captain Kickass.”   Obama is making himself into an object of derision in a media environment that had given him a free pass in 2008.  If the economy slides back into a recession and government debt continues to escalate, the emerging picture of incompetence will take an iron grip on the Obama administration much as it did with Jimmy Carter in the final two years of his term, and with George W. Bush after Hurricane Katrina.

In that media environment, established executive competence will become a premium quality, and Republicans have some good choices for such a campaign.  Mitch Daniels’ two terms in a state that had gone purple in 2008 will play big with fiscal conservatives and those looking to broaden the party’s reach.  Jan Brewer in Arizona might be another potential candidate, assuming she wins her upcoming re-election effort.  Tim Pawlenty has had some of the same charisma criticisms in the past, but he’s coming off a big win in a budget battle with Minnesota Democrats (DFL) and he’s doing a lot of fundraising and campaigning through his Freedom First PAC.  Chris Christie has become a conservative star by fearlessly taking on big battles in order to right New Jersey’s financial ship after years of runaway spending.

In 2012, it will be all about executive competence, not charisma or soaring rhetoric in service to silly platitudes.  Republicans have a solid and increasing bench from which to launch such a campaign, and Daniels would be a welcome and worthy addition.

Addendum: Later in his article, Andy quotes me from an e-mail exchange we had earlier in the week.