Is Mitch Daniels electable?

If there is one way in which Daniels differs from many conservatives, it isn’t on the importance of social issues, it’s on government. Hanging on the wall of his office are portraits of illustrious Hoosiers, from Eli Lilly to Cole Porter to Gus Grissom. “Our job [in government] is to make it easier for them to do what they do,” he explains. And it’s worth doing well. It matters to Daniels that people have faith in their elected leaders — in the system. “Oh, it’s easy to trash government,” he acknowledges. “I could do it all day. But you have to be careful not to suggest that all of government is corrupt and wasteful and full of knaves. We have some huge problems to solve — many created by government — but government is going to have to solve them too.”

And that brings us back to his reluctance to run for president. Daniels wrote all of his own campaign commercials — as he writes all of his own speeches (or composes them, since he is one of those natural public speakers who need only a couple of index cards). His final commercial in 2008 promised that if voters reelected him, “This is last time you’ll ever have to see me in a commercial.” It was typical of Daniels’s self-effacing humor. But he meant it. And he really hates the idea that Hoosiers would think he was insincere.

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