Among those who follow campaigns from Washington, Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana is regarded as an almost certain candidate for president in 2012. His speeches are carefully scrutinized by the press. Every list of potential Republican nominees contains his name. Yet according to many who know him, Daniels hasn’t come close to making up his mind, and in fact may not be preparing for a national run at all.
“Depends on the day of the week,” said someone close to the governor, asked whether or not Daniels was planning to run for president. “You know, everyday is different in terms of what Mitch is saying.”
As recently as last week, Daniels told acquaintances that he was leaning against a campaign for president. But speculation abounds, even among those close to him. “For those of us who admire him and respect him and work for him and support him, this is a source of endless speculation,” said a former aide.
Publicly, Daniels has said that he will wait to make a decision until after this session of the Indiana legislature ends in April.
“He’s made clear that his focus is the Indiana legislative session and his job as Governor of Indiana,” said Indiana GOP Communications Director Pete Seat. “Any decision would come after that.”
Speculation on Daniels is made more difficult by the fact that he is a private person, with an unusually small circle of confidants. Those who know him well suggest that much of his staff likely doesn’t know what he’s really thinking.
“He holds a lot of cards to his vest,” said someone who has worked with Daniels, who said that even when Daniels was debating running for governor, no one really knew what direction he was leaning in as close as two days before he declared he would run.
This person suggested that the only people who really have an idea what might happen are Daniels and his wife.
For her part, Daniels’ wife has expressed reservations about her husband running for president, telling the press that she was “uneasy” about the possibility. Some who know the governor suspect that it is her reluctance that is making the decision so difficult for Daniels.
On the other side is Daniels’ “sense of obligation to the country,” said one former aide, who described the governor as very concerned about the state of the country, particularly the deficit, the debt and government spending. Daniels believes the country is facing an “existential or survival level threat,” he said.
“If you’re in the situation where you really feel the country’s future is on the line, and people tell you you’re one of the few people who can fix the problem, you have to give serious thought to that,” the former aide explained.
The governor’s actions have been scrutinized lately for clues as to which direction he’s leaning on a run, and in some cases, it is what he has not done that has spoken the loudest. For instance, he has not made the customary pilgrimages to Iowa and New Hampshire in the past few months, longer even: according to Daniels’ aide Trevor Kight, “the governor has not been to Iowa or New Hampshire in recent years.”
Most recently, he was criticized for his reaction when Indiana’s Democratic state senators, following in the footsteps of their Wisconsin counterparts, fled the state in order to avoid a vote on a “right to work” bill. Daniels had argued that the bill should not be introduced at this time. The governor angered many conservatives on Tuesday when he called the Democrats’ flight “a perfectly legitimate part of the process,”* leading to speculation that someone who was planning to make a run would not have made such a comment considering it would likely not go over well with the conservative Republican base. On Wednesday, however, he backtracked, calling their actions “totally unacceptable.”
Daniels also raised questions about his intention to make a run when he said the next president “would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues” to focus on the economic problems the country faces. The statement angered many social conservatives, a constituency Republican candidates need to court in the Republican primary. Daniels has since touted his pro-life credentials, telling radio host Laura Ingraham that his gubernatorial administration “has been, without question, the most pro-life administration in our state’s history. We haven’t just talked about it, we have advanced the right to life.”
On the other side of the equation, Daniels has made one high profile appearance in Washington, D.C recently and has another one planned in march: one, his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and the other, his planned speech at the Gridiron Club dinner in March. Daniels has also been holding private dinners with Republican donors and heavyweights.
Even if he’s not running, Daniels has no good reason to quash the speculation.
“Your platform is, to some extent, amplified when you’re seen as someone that could seek a national role,” said the former aide. “And he’s got some things to say. He thinks this is a very critical time in our country’s future and he wants people to listen.”
As a result, he pointed out, “there’s no real reason to completely rebut speculation until he really comes to the point where he has to decide based on the concerns of his family or the reality of the political calendar.”
“You kind of have to wonder why John Thune ruled himself out,” he said. “When is the next time people are going to go running to John Thune for a quote?”
*Daniels later said that this remark was made in reference to the protesters, not the legislators who had left.