Mitch Daniels tells CPAC to defeat the ‘new red menace’

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels took the CPAC stage Friday night with a brainy, intense speech that explained the debt crisis as the “new red menace” and challenged activists to unify and sacrifice to defeat it.

“It is the new Red Menace, this time consisting of ink, ” Daniels said. “If a foreign power advanced an army to the border of our land, everyone in this room would drop everything and look for a way to help. We would set aside all other agendas and disputes as secondary, and go to the ramparts until the threat was repelled. That is what those of us here, and every possible ally we can persuade to join us, are now called to do.”

Daniels, who has a reputation as a policy wonk, didn’t disappoint, addressing the national deficit at the exclusion of almost all else, with length and specificity— something George Will called the “charisma of competence” in his introduction. Daniels likely benefited from his speech slot. The CPAC dinner audience is more focused and patient than the daytime audience, allowing speakers time to unpack a philosophy instead of worrying about packing the room.

The daytime crowds warmed to animated speakers like Herman Cain and Gov. Rick Perry more than the low-key stylings of John Thune and Tim Pawlenty.

But Daniels’ speech wasn’t unrelenting in its seriousness. He zinged Obama over his Nobel Peace Prize and said the EPA should be renamed the “Employment Prevention Agency.” He called the fiscal crisis of our nation our “raison debt,” to chuckling from the audience.

Other parts of the speech offered tough love in the place of easy applause lines. Claiming a longtime animus toward earmarks, Daniels also called them a “trifle” compared to what’s driving insolvency.

“Talking much more about them, or ‘waste, fraud, and abuse,’ trivializes what needs to be done, and misleads our fellow citizens to believe that easy answers are available to us,” he said.