Words matter to Mitch Daniels.
They always have.
The just-retired Purdue University president and former Indiana governor took pride in penning his speeches and other pieces of writing that bore his name. He wanted to be able to own what he said and have what he said matter.
That’s why it would be a mistake to stop reading his statement announcing he would not run for the U.S. Senate in 2024 after the first sentence, which said:
“After what I hope was adequate reflection, I’ve decided not to become a candidate for the U.S. Senate.”
The reason one should keep reading the announcement is that it offers, in polite language, a searing indictment of Daniels’ own Republican Party in particular and the current American political scene in general.
Daniels builds his argument by referring to the leader once considered the secular saint of the GOP. Ronald Reagan. Daniels notes that Reagan observed that two kinds of people run for office—those who want to be somebody and those who want to do something.
Daniels makes clear that he sees himself in the latter category—of people who want to get things done.
Then, in an eloquent section, he spells out exactly what he would have liked to accomplish. I’m going to quote from it at length because the words matter.
The truth always does.
“Had I chosen to compete, given my age, I would have done so on an explicitly one-term basis. I would have returned any unspent campaign funds to their donors, closed any political accounts, and devoted six years to causes I think critical to the long-term safety and prosperity of our country.
“These issues include saving the safety net programs, so that we can keep promises we have made to older and vulnerable Americans and avoid a terrible national crisis of confidence and betrayal; in so doing, to avoid crushing our economy and today’s younger citizens with the unpayable debts we are on course to leave them; to confront firmly the aggression of a would-be superpower who holds in contempt the values of personal freedom and individual dignity central to our national success and our view of a just society; to secure our borders without depriving the nation of the talent and energy that grateful immigrants can bring.
“And I would have tried to work on these matters in a way that might soften the harshness and personal vitriol that has infected our public square, rendering it not only repulsive to millions of Americans, but also less capable of effective action to meet our threats and seize our opportunities.”
Several things stand out about these paragraphs.
The first is that the issues Daniels prioritizes are ones upon which Americans used to agree. Likely, most of us still do. We want to care for and protect the vulnerable, defend freedom and the human spirit and establish a sane and just path for good people eager to build better lives for themselves and their families to pursue the American dream.
Our disagreements in the past generally have been about how we should reach these goals, not about the goals themselves. We have quarreled about means, not ends.
That’s no longer the case.
The second thing is that Daniels believes the social contract that holds this country together is imperiled. When he talks about keeping promises and avoiding crises of confidence and betrayal, he’s making a case—an irrefutable one—that the political games we’re playing with the debt ceiling and other fundamental commitments to the American people are undermining the foundations of the nation.
The last point is more implied than overtly stated.
Daniels isn’t running because he doesn’t think his political party and this nation’s political culture are interested in solving, rather than exploiting, problems. Therefore, serving in the U.S. Senate would be a waste of his time.
When one looks at the candidate most Republicans are lining up behind—U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-Indiana, who rarely has found a conspiracy theory he didn’t embrace or a national divide he didn’t want to widen—it’s difficult to argue that Daniels’ implication is mistaken.
The fact is we now live in an era in which too many of our leaders prefer fights to solutions.
That Mitch Daniels chose not to run for the Senate says a lot about both today’s Republican Party and America as it stands.
None of it good.