Could Daniels have won?

Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana can imagine the death of the presidential campaign he decided not to launch. In the Republican debate held in Ames, Iowa, in August, candidates were asked to raise their hands if they would oppose a long-term budget deal that included a 10-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases. They all did (and Rick Perry, who wasn’t yet in the race, later affirmed that he would have joined them). In an interview for CBS, I asked Daniels what he would have done. “I would not have raised my hand,” he said…

Daniels is not promoting increasing taxes. But he is flirting with lending some perspective to the presidential race—or at least an ounce of consideration. “Here’s what I would have said, and I wish somebody would have said,” he says. “I would have said, not ‘I’ll take the deal’, but ‘tell me more.'” He is highly suspicious of tax increases, and the tests he would apply are stringent. But Daniels is obsessed with the size of the debt and the looming catastrophe that will occur if it is not addressed. “We ought to view it as a military threat,” he says. In order to start solving the problem, he is willing to trade progress on the big goal for ideological rigidity. “It would be a mistake the close the door. We need the 90 percent imaginary or hypothetical spending cuts here. We need that desperately, and I’d be willing up to some point to pay a price, if it were practical, to secure it.”

Daniels has been joking with those who urged him to run that he might have killed his campaign in his first debate. “It would have been my boom moment,” he says of not raising his hand.