What potential presidential candidate has started a private “Christ-centered” Christian school aimed at serving the poor?
What potential presidential candidate and current governor won re-election in 2008 even though then-candidate Obama won the state’s electoral vote?
What potential presidential candidate is said to be “totally pro-life and walks the walk”—the same potential candidate who has signed a law defunding Planned Parenthood in his state, the very first state and governor to do so? And in a very strongly worded statement to Planned Parenthood denouncing them and organizations that provide abortion services, who also signed a bill that would prevent abortions from occurring after 20 weeks?
What potential presidential candidate serves as an elder at his church?
What potential presidential candidate has pledged to follow the will of his citizens and sign into law a declaration to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman?
Mitch Daniels, the Governor of Indiana.
Mitch Daniels, the potential candidate that social-conservatives assail as the moral issues bogeyman and abdicator-in-chief; the same social conservatives with whom I’m a proud member.
The news is abuzz about the potential of a Mitch Daniels candidacy for the presidency. While I do not speak for Mere Orthodoxy, my intention in this post is to provide the political case for why a social conservative endorsement of Mitch Daniels has merit.
While I would love to list his many accomplishments in Indiana (like eliminating a deficit and turning it into a surplus, cutting taxes, adding people to health care rolls through free market principles, and reducing the size of government to some of its lowest levels ever), the scope of this article is limited to his controversial status as a reluctant social-conservative.
Like any potential candidate for the presidency, past positions and statements become fodder for political speculation. In a now infamous June 2010 profile by The Weekly Standard, Governor Daniels stated that there needs to be a “truce” on social issues in order to focus more sharply on our economic woes. Presumably, this would mean that as president, he’d be willing to compromise on moral issues in exchange for passing a more strict economic measure. Daniels has been eviscerated by social-conservatives through and through for his remarks. I understand the concern and will grant that social conservatives are justified in offering an initial suspicion. But should evangelicals and social conservatives express fear, scorn, or cynicism with Mitch Daniels as a whole to the degree that he shouldn’t be considered a social conservative? In a word: No.
Here are the controversial remarks Daniels infamously remarked:
And then, he says, the next president, whoever he is, “would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues. We’re going to just have to agree to get along for a little while,” until the economic issues are resolved. Daniels is pro-life himself, and he gets high marks from conservative religious groups in his state. He serves as an elder at the Tabernacle Presbyterian Church, in inner-city Indianapolis, which he’s attended for 50 years. In 1998, with a few other couples from Tabernacle and a nearby Baptist congregation, he and his wife founded a “Christ-centered” school, The Oaks Academy, in a downtown neighborhood the local cops called “Dodge City.” It’s flourishing now with 315 mostly poor kids who pursue a classical education: Latin from third grade on, logic in middle school, rhetoric in eighth grade, an emphasis throughout on the treasures of Western Civilization. “It’s the most important thing I’ve ever been involved in,” he told me. His social-conservative credentials are solid.
But about that truce . . .
“He might be one guy who could get away with it,” said Curt Smith, head of the Indiana Family Institute, who’s known Daniels since the 1980s. “He has a deep faith, he’s totally pro-life, and he walks the talk. And in an acute situation, like the one we’re in now with the debt, he might get away with a truce for a year or two. But to be successful in office he’s going to have to show those folks he shares their vision.”
In 2008, Smith supported an amendment to the state constitution to codify marriage between a man and a woman. He asked for the governor’s support.
“I wish he’d been more vocal about it, but that’s not his way,” Smith said. “What he told me, and told the public, was ‘As a citizen I will go into the voting booth and vote for it eagerly. As governor, I don’t have a role in this. The legislature and the people amend the constitution.’ ”
Procedurally, Daniel’s statement is absolutely correct regarding gay marriage. As a governor, Daniels would have no control on the constitutional amendment itself, yet he also stated that he is personally in favor of the amendment. In a quote from The Hill, Daniels is said to be “pro-life and pro-family but he doesn’t position himself with Religious Right activists.” From initial observation, Daniels is cagey in his touting of social positions, but not reluctant.
Pundits are undecided as to the impact of Daniels’ “truce.” Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post has criticized Daniels’ foreign policy know-how, but also what she determines to be a poorly decided judge appointment that Daniels made. Interestingly, she makes no mention of whether the judge appointee had any bearing on social issues or whether he was motivated in his decision by moral issues.
Here, Daniels clarifies his remarks on the truce, but even his attempt at clearing the air is achieved with an altruistic ethic—he does not cast aside social issues, but frames social issues around a concern for an issue that immediately threatens to drown every American—fiscal implosion. He won’t neglect social issues, but he will juxtapose them with what he believes to be equally pressing concerns.
Daniels has never appeared cynical to the causes important to social conservatives. He’s appeared cautious and keenly aware of the full gamut of problems facing America. A preponderance of unemployment will accelerate abortion. Inflation and high gas prices leaves families cash-strapped and wanting. A refusal to confront our debt crisis spells coming misfortune for all Americans. Social conservatives, like myself, often fall into the trap of believing that our problems and our issues are the only legitimate problems facing America. I don’t believe this the case.
Social conservatives must also examine the realistic shortcoming of their own potential ideal: If a pristine candidate of outstanding social conservative credentials was elected, marriage defined to our liking, divorce lessened, and abortion forever outlawed, would America’s future be secured?
While such utopist visions are comforting and noble, even our finest and well-credentialed social conservative might lack the vigor to fix an economy. What if America’s current course demands a fiscal hawk whose austerity measures might catapult America into a new age of social conservatism?
For fear of plagiarism, I must confess that my next statement did not originate with me, but I do not remember who said it first. As regards what many believe would be an abandonment of a strong social conservative plank in his potential candidacy, we must remember that there’s a difference between running as a social conservative and governing as one. And this, I think, is where Daniels comes into his own. Daniels has unapologetically governed as a social conservative without waving the movement’s banner. There is no evidence from Daniels that he would betray either his own values or the values of a large constituency of the conservative movement.
And consider, however pragmatic it may appear: The candidate who focuses exclusively on social issues for the 2012 election will remain exactly that—a candidate. A candidate who is boldly socially conservative, but lacks the economic record will not win the presidency. This is lamentable, but it must be accepted. The narrative of the 2012 election is the economy—itself not an atheological or completely separate issue from moral concern. Social conservatives should not balk at this as an abandonment of principle. And when did economic issues become issues of non-moral or non-social significance to social conservatives? A Daniels presidency might shift the metric of conservatism to an equal concern for both economic and moral issues. As Robert George has written, the alliance of social and economic conservatives is not one of convenience, but ideological interdependency. Conservatives would position themselves well to stand behind the candidate with the best economic record who also promises to govern according to the social conservative agenda.
The so-called “Buckley Rule” comes into effect with Daniels, as well. Buckley, in his days as the editor of National Review, was criticized for not endorsing the most conservative candidates for office. Why? Because he believed that electability factored more decisively in determining who to endorse. Daniels may not be the most social conservative candidate. Santorum wins that prize. But does Rick Santorum have a realistic chance at the presidency?
We must ask: What candidate has the best record for accomplishing tremendous economic reform and enacting conservative policies, but who has also governed as a social conservative according to his record? Mitch Daniels.
I’m not alone in this sentiment, even WORLD Magazine (the darling of social conservative king-maker Marvin Olasky) appears to have received Daniels warmly.
Some social conservatives may detest Mitch Daniels. I understand their concern and sympathize with it, but I do not share it. Daniels has been labeled a “family man” both by his past, but also in his fierce commitment to pursuing the presidency only at the approval of his family. Some will say his candidacy among social conservatives will be plagued by his divorce from his wife, Cheri. Yet critics also need to reconsider that reconciliation occurred and Daniels and his wife are now happily remarried. Remarked Daniels, “If you love happy endings, you’ll love story. Love and the love of children overcame any problems.” In a divorce culture such as our own, the idea of reconciliation between two estranged parties is both exceptional and a testament to he and his family’s character. For social conservatives who prioritize marriage as an institution worthy of perseverance and esteem, Daniels’ actions and commitment embody it.
At the same time, presenting the case for Mitch Daniels does not mean I endorse his own language. As this article rightly notes, Daniels’ decision to use the phrase of a “truce” was not helpful and it was an alienating comment for social conservatives.
Social conservatives are the main neglected, under-served constituency in the Republican Party, but most of them seem willing to keep putting up with this treatment for some reason.
Yet Daniels may have reflexively given the party’s social conservative tea-party base a mantra of their own asking. The author goes on:
A lot of people have noticed that Tea Partiers also tend to be very socially conservative, because most Tea Partiers are rank-and-file conservative Republicans, but what has been clear is that these socially conservative Tea Partiers have made fiscal and economic issues their top priority. In effect, they have endorsed the “truce” that some activist groups and politicians find so offensive. This is what makes all of the kvetching about Daniels’ proposal so redundant: a great many social conservatives agree that putting our fiscal house in order is the most pressing issue, which was Daniels’ point.
Had Daniels chosen not to use “truce” as a descriptor, he could have at the same time stated his expertise and preference on economic issues without demoting moral issues.
I know the 2012 election is far off and speculation as to who stands the greatest challenge to President Obama often drives our day-time news intake. There is no suspicion warranted that would suggest that Daniels would not govern as a social conservative. The Republican candidate—whoever he is—must adopt the social platform of the Republican’s social conservatives. There is no way around this reality. This article highlights the gravitational necessity (and apparent shift) of Daniels expounding at least a minimally social conservative platform. While the Republican party may be considered adrift by some, the party is still not capable of giving its presidential nomination to a moderate, pro-choice Republican. Daniels may be cagey in his social conservatism, but he’ll adopt it most assuredly if he’s to be considered a serious candidate for the presidency.
Not all will be convinced of a Daniels presidency; or the social conservative case for him. Neither is my analysis flawless. I’d only re-state my original intention for this article: to offer a plausible explanation for a social conservatie acceptance of Mitch Daniels.