Opinion

Mitch Daniels: America’s Vice President

The presidential race is in turmoil, and so are some of the loudest voters. Donald Trump followers hate Ted Cruz. Cruz supporters want nothing to do with Trump, with many in the #NeverTrump movement. And John Kasich, regardless of his win in Ohio, doesn’t have enough nationwide support to make a minyan.

In this political season, regardless of the nominee, one thing has become abundantly clear: Each of these men needs a cool, steady, proven leader by their side. A vice president who is, truly, more than just a vice president. They need Mitch Daniels.

The former two-term Indiana governor. The man whom Fortune Magazine named one of the world’s great leaders. The man who has led Purdue University through turbulent times without the turbulence we’ve seen on college campuses across America; at Purdue, investment in technology is high, the student population is respected and the men’s basketball program went to the Big Dance. (Next year, #BoilerBall. Next year.)

He is an education-minded man in a country that needs an education-minded man. Not only do we need to fix the disaster that is public education in the United States, but we need someone who can bring Republicans and Democrats and independents to the bigger, better ideas.

Daniels has kept tuition from rising at Purdue by instituting a freeze. Some candidates talk about the high cost of college. Mitch did something about it. Purdue, under Daniels’ leadership, is creating a high tech, highly skilled work force for a country that desperately needs a high tech, highly skilled work force.

The Daily Kos has called for Daniels to be fired for “attacking academic freedom” because he called Howard Zinn’s A People’s History Of The United States, “a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page. Can someone assure me that it is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?”

Even The Atlantic recognized that Zinn’s book was one of the least credible history books in print.

When The Atlantic agrees with Mitch Daniels, you understand the effect an honest, decent, proven leader can have on bringing people together, and eradicating the propaganda that passes as education in the US. Imagine what he can do on a train wreck of an election season.

“But, we need to win the election!” you say with a mix of incredulousness and intrigue. “With a billionaire and a Harvard lawyer on the top of the ticket, we need a vice president who can also relate to people, and their everyday lives!”

Look no further than Daniels, who took on, dismantled and rebuilt the DMV.

In Indiana, it’s called the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Before Daniels took office, lines at the BMV were long. Disney long. Taylor Swift free autograph signing long.

As Brett Swanson wrote in Forbes in 2011:

In the summer of 2004, my wife and I moved from Massachusetts back to our home state of Indiana. When I reported to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to secure a new driver’s license, however, it was apparent Hoosier hospitality had not found its way to the state agency. I only achieved street legality after six weeks and seven infuriating trips to various government offices.

Mitch Daniels was elected to his first term in 2005, and the experience at the BMV changed — drastically. Swanson:

We check in, wait three minutes for the clerk, and within another six minutes, we are out the door. Truth be told, three or four of those minutes were spent thanking the very pleasant clerk for the vastly improved service. You can see the receipt of our quick visit nearby.

Six minutes versus six weeks. This mundane comparison is but a tiny reflection of the far more momentous policy agenda and management effectiveness of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Daniels not only increased efficiency, but he did so while reducing the BMV staff by 20 percent.

He is, by all accounts, a not-so-regular guy who is amazingly normal. As one student said about him in 2015:

Senior dietetics major Melanie Sturm also has been pleasantly surprised as a student in the president’s small World War I history seminar.

“I was really nervous at first,” Sturm said, noting that Daniels had been a prominent public figure already. “He’s chill. He’s relaxed. He’s approachable.”

Daniels has proven himself comfortable in the governor’s mansion, on campus and in the classroom. But no place is he more at home than on his motorcycle. Yes, Daniels rides a Harley-Davidson. He wrote about his rides in 2010. Yes, Daniels can balance a budget and write about choppers:

Now I own two of them. One is a Dyna Low Rider I bought shortly after I was elected, which is now painted up with the state flag of Indiana. Later, I was at a Harley store picking up a part, and there sat a Fat Boy — the baddest, blackest bike I’d ever seen. I only engage in frivolous impulse purchases about once every 10 years. That was one of them.

But he didn’t just write about his Low Rider and his Fat Boy. He wrote about what it took to get back into riding after starting a family, and realizing the importance of priorities:

I rode motorcycles all through my 20s. Then came a move, marriage, and children, and I had to go without one — no time, no money, and no permission. But I always had it in my mind that I would own a Harley Davidson someday. I liked the way they looked, and I liked the noise.

And, he wrote about what it means to ride:

People who like this hobby talk about the sense of freedom they get from it. That’s especially true for me. It’s hard to be preoccupied with problems of state when you’re watching other vehicles on the road and enjoying the scenery. It’s the one time when I’m more or less a free man.

Personal responsibility. Having standards. Setting goals. Pursuing one’s passions. Being free; Daniels summed up conservatism in two paragraphs talking about motorcycles. That’s bad ass.

And, if the resume of Mitch Daniels isn’t enough, he has one more line on the CV worth noting: He once fired Donald Trump.

In 2005, Trump wanted to build a casino in French Lick. When Daniels became governor, he demanded the resignation of the Indiana Gaming Commission that approved Trump’s plan for a $108 million casino:

The move raised tough questions about Trump’s financial viability. Around the same time, the Indiana tax court also ordered Trump to pay an estimated $20.9 million in back taxes. When state gambling regulators delivered a list of demands to Trump including details on the project’s funding, the mogul couldn’t meet a state-imposed deadline and backed out of the project.

Eventually, an Indiana-based group won approval and now runs the casino in town.

So maybe “fired” is a bit strong. But, one thing is clear, Mitch Daniels is not afraid of any subject, or anyone. And I’m sure The Donald understands. Like two old Italian families coming together on a new project: The past is the past. It was just business.

Daniels was once rumored to be part of a meeting this election cycle to discuss Trump. He wasn’t there, it was just a rumor. Reports also stated that Daniels has vowed to separate himself from partisan politics, and the Republican Party, while at Purdue.

That part is true. It’s classic, pragmatic Mitch. And, as Purdue can testify, he’s done exactly that.

It is difficult in elected office to sell a passionate constituency on the need for pragmatism. Not capitulation, as too many in the GOP have done for years. But, rather, on the indexing of what must come first for society, then second, then third. This type of open conversation scares politicos, mainly, because they fear being honest with the voters.

Mitch has made a career of it. Daniels is pro-life. As Governor, Daniels signed HEA-1210, which revoked taxpayer money for Planned Parenthood in Indiana. But, as he wrote in his book, “Keeping The Republic:”

Is it possible that, as one step toward the rescue of our republic, we might declare a sort of truce on our other differences? I choose the word TRUCE here specifically because it must be totally mutual. The endless debate over abortion is such an issue…

I submit the suggestion temporarily to set aside our social issues only as a matter of prioritization in the face of what I believe to be a genuine emergency, and in the cause of assembling the extraordinarily broad coalition that will be needed to do “the impossible.” If America goes broke, suffering will come to gays and straights, men and women, pro-life and pro-choice advocates, and to people of all races.

Daniels was called out for this. Some said he was softening his stance on abortion. On Laura Ingraham’s radio program, he did not apologize; he explained. He offered, and demanded, clarity:

The major point, though, was something different, and it was just this: I believe…. that the arithmetic of our times says we are headed for Niagara Falls, fiscally. You cannot run any kind of enterprise — private or public — on a self-governing basis as deeply in hawk as we now are and are going to be,” Daniels added. “… to change the whole size and scope of the federal government in a radical way, then we are going to need a very broad constituency in this country to do that … so that’s all I meant, kind of a priority matter, first things first. Maybe we could just concentrate on that for a little while, because I think that’s the most immediate threat to the republic we’ve known.

Social media may be screaming, fights may be happening and pundits may be losing their minds, but that’s not what the country wants. America is desperate for a cool, strong, practical hand in the White House.

Trump needs a partner who will never be a “yes” man, and can teach him how to govern. Cruz needs a partner who will help him (or, teach him how to) build relationships, while equally supporting the need to return to the Constitution. Kasich needs a partner who will also always take the high road, while teaching him that true conservatism can be compassionate without Medicaid expansion.

And, if the Republicans do have a contested convention in Cleveland, the selected nominee will need a vice president that the entire party – Republicans, Conservatives, moderates, Libertarians, independents, NRA members, dog lovers and Fox News — can get behind.

In 2012, he was pushed, cajoled, prompted and, basically, begged to run for president. The Guardian called Daniels the “best presidential candidate not in the GOP race.” The Washington Post wrote, “Mitch Daniels and What Could Have Been.” In 2010, Esquire Magazine wrote, “Meet Your 2012 Republican Presidential Candidate” above a photo of Daniels.

He should have run. He chose not to. It led to all sorts of questions about his family life, the influence of his wife and whether or not there is something in the closet that needs to stay there.

This isn’t 2012. And rumors about Mitch Daniels pale in comparison to the truth about Mitch Daniels. He is ready, and he is needed.

When Swanson wrote about Daniels in 2011, he titled his piece, “Mitch Daniels Saved Indiana. Is America Next?”

Indiana may have the nation’s most efficient state government, but our state is unlikely to succeed if America does not. We’re willing to share, and we hope this unusually smart and energetic man of action might consider service in a larger arena.

When Daniels ran for governor, he used the slogan, “My Man Mitch.” He is Indiana’s man. Now, he needs to be ‘Merica’s Man Mitch.

Republicans, and America, need Mitch Daniels as vice president.

Tony Katz is the host of Tony Katz and the Morning News on 93.1FM WIBC in Indianapolis. Find him on Twitter @tonykatz