The Social Conservative Case for Mitch Daniels

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.

 

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  • http://firstthings.com Joe Carter

    If the choice were between Daniels and Obama, I would choose Daniels. But why should we support him over other candidates (like Pawlenty) who are equally strong on economic issues and have the added benefit of being actual conservatives?

    Daniels claims he is a libertarian in the model of Charles Murray. There’s nothing wrong with supporting a libertarian if you believe in libertarianism. But it is a philosophy that is wholly incompatible with conservatism. Why should we support Daniels in the hope that he won’t actually act as if he believes the philosophy that he claims shapes his views?

    • Andrew Walker

      Joe,

      After conversation this weekend, I knew there would be a comment coming from you.

      I don’t think Pawlenty is as equally strong nor as electable as Daniels. I really like Pawlenty, and would be enthusiastic in voting for him, but I think he lacks the national gravitas that an individual like Daniels has and would engender more of.

      I understand the libertarian identification brandished by Daniels, but as I say in my article, he’s governed as a social conservative and, equally, hasn’t governed as a libertarian purist.

  • http://firstthings.com Joe Carter

    I don’t think Pawlenty is as equally strong nor as electable as Daniels.

    To be fair, I think we should admit that neither of them are electable in 2012. That is one of the reasons why I don’t think we should be so quick to discard conservatism in order to support a candidate on pragmatic grounds.

    I’ll give Daniels some credit for governing as a social conservative. But there is a bigger issue at stake, an issue even bigger than the next election: Will the political right in America become increasingly conservative or libertarian?

    Libertarianism is simply another form of liberalism. As we’ve seen over the last five years, they are increasingly becoming similar, especially on social issues. For Daniels to identify with the movement shows that he lacks either judgment or intelligence. Either he understands what libertarianism is and is therefore not qualified to be supported by conservatives or he doesn’t really understand what he claims to be and is therefore not as smart as we think he is.

    Daniels says he believes in governing as a libertarian. While he may be inconsistent in that application, his expressed desire is enough to give conservatives pause.

    Obviously, I’d support a faux-liberal (a libertarian) over a hard-core liberal (like Obama). But there is no way that I would ever actively champion someone who holds views are are so diametrically opposed to my own as long as other options are available. I hope other conservatives will feel the same way.

    • Andrew Walker

      “I’ll give Daniels some credit for governing as a social conservative. But there is a bigger issue at stake, an issue even bigger than the next election: Will the political right in America become increasingly conservative or libertarian?”

      Joe–great question.

    • Austin

      Joe,

      I admire your passion and agree with Andrew’s assessment that your question – “Will the political right in America become increasingly conservative or libertarian?” – is a good one.

      However, I strongly disagree with your summation of libertarianism. You posted, “Libertarianism is simply another form of liberalism” and call Libertarians “Faux-liberals”. This is not the case.

      Liberals do not believe in a free market, which is totally incompatible with libertarianism.

      Libertarians believe in liberty. Freedom from government restraint in both the economic and social spheres. This is a consistent message and one that should not be confused with liberalism.

      PS – Andrew, I stumbled upon this blog through RealClearReligion.com and enjoyed your post. Thanks!

      • Andrew Walker

        Austin,

        Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you were able to track us down from RealClearReligion.

        Stick around!

        Andrew

  • http://firstthings.com Joe Carter

    Here’s another bullet point against Daniels. Last night he was asked who he might select as a VP and he said Condi Rice. Rice is pro-choice.

    http://www.lifenews.com/2011/05/13/mitch-daniels-names-pro-abortion-condi-rice-as-potential-vp/

    As the story notes, Rice says she is “mildly pro-choice” and that she is “in effect kind of libertarian on this issue.”

    Some people are probably wondering how I can always tie everything I dislike back to libertarianism. All I can say is—it’s a gift. ; )

  • Recon

    I’m a church-going Christian pro-life Republican, and I don’t have a problem with Condi’s views as she stated them. Abortion should never have been mandated by SCOTUS, but we cannot step in & create the maelstrom overturning Roe v Wade would cause, either. We have critical issues at stake in America, and I trust both of them to make good decisions on behalf of social conservatives. Daniels is my number one, even tho as a general rule I’m really *not* crazy about the ‘tarian mindset either. I do however like Daniels quite a bit. And Indiana elected hime twice – how scary can he be, really? But he needs a Condi to complement his fiscal record with her own in foreign policy. I will vote against Obama no matter who the final contender is. I did the same thing in ’08. My priorities haven’t changed – it’s got to be ANYBODY but Obama. For the record, this is Condi’s full statement:

    “I’ve called myself at times mildly pro-choice. I’m kind of libertarian on this issue, and meaning by that that I have been concerned about a government role in this issue. I’m a strong proponent of parental choice, of parental notification. I’m a strong proponent of a ban on late-term abortion. These are all things that I think unite people and I think that that’s where we should be.
    What I do think is that we should not have the federal government in a position where it is forcing its views on one side or the other. So, for instance, I’ve tended to agree with those who do not favor federal funding for abortion, because I believe that those who hold a strong moral view on the other side should not be forced to fund it.“
    That works for me. Get the govt out of funding, & we keep messaging re: the brutality of the act itself. Both Mitch & Condi believe the govt should play a smaller role & get away from funding special interests. I am ALL for that.

  • Recon

    And thanks for posting this blog, Andrew. I was pleased to see something like this from a fellow conservative. Bookmarked :)

    • Andrew Walker

      Thanks, Recon. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Gary Glenn

    “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.”

    Wrong on that one.

    Early in his governorship, Daniels did by executive order in Indiana what Barney Frank and Obama have not yet managed to force onto all 50 states. Daniels ordered that “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” be added to the state’s nondiscrimination policy, thus establishing special “protected class” status expressly on the basis of homosexual behavior and/or psycho-sexual delusion.

    The so-called “sexual orientation” legal construct is the greatest single threat to religious freedom in America today, something even publications such as the Washington Post, NPR, LA Times have acknowledged.

    Equality Indiana reported in its newsletter that the Daniels campaign actually made a financial contribution to a joint fundraiser the group held with another group committed specifically to the bizarre so-called “transgender” movement, which promotes the notion that men who claim to believe they’re women really ARE women and thus should be allowed to use women’s restrooms and showers, play women’s sports, etc., something the Maine Human Rights Commission recently proposed requiring of all public schools in the state.

    The American Family Association of Indiana was highly critical of Daniels’ executive order.

    And on another issue, Daniels is widely known to have vigorously opposed making Indiana a Right to Work state, even though the absence of such a law leaves Christians forced under threat of being fired to financially support hard-left labor unions that lobby not only for abortion on demand but the entire homosexual/cross-dressing agenda.

  • Gary Glenn

    From the July-August 2004 issue of the Indiana Transgender Rights Advocacy Alliance:

    “Our efforts are paying off in very tangible ways. On May 10th, Republican gubernatorial candidate, Mitch Daniels, added gender identity as a protected characteristic in his campaign’s employment policy. On May 19th, a representative from the Mitch Daniels Campaign attended the INTRAA fundraiser benefiting Indiana Equality and made a financial contribution to our efforts while being able to meet and talk with transgender
    constituents and allies from Indiana Equality.”

  • Gary Glenn

    BAPTIST PRESS, Aug. 5, 2005:

    “Sexual orientation” policy remains
    sore spot for Indiana governor

    by James Patterson

    Indiana’s evangelical Christians are continuing to voice alarm over an employment policy instituted by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels granting special rights to homosexuals.

    Daniels, who took office in January, revised the state’s Equal Employment Opportunity policy by adding the terms ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ to the list of protected categories in state employment, fulfilling a campaign pledge.

    Several thousand Indiana residents have sent e-mails to the governor protesting the policy change since it was instituted in late April. Many of them lamented a difference in Daniels’ longstanding claim to be a Christian and his state hiring policy.

    Read full story:

    http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=21357

  • Gary Glenn

    And in case anyone is not familiar with the implications of Daniels’ executive order establishing special “protected class” status on the basis of so-called “gender identity,” openly homosexual Congressman Barney Frank, D-Mass., explained to the homosexual advocacy newsweekly in Boston why he initially considered the term too radical for inclusion in his federal “gay rights” legislation:

    BAY WINDOWS
    Boston, Massachusetts
    June 10, 1999

    …Frank said including transgender protections in (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) is far more complicated than, say, inclusion of transgender persons in the federal hate crimes act, which Frank supports. The current ENDA would protect transgender individuals if they are discriminated against because they are gay or lesbian or perceived as being gay or lesbian, he said. But there are workplace situations — communal showers, for example — when the demands of the transgender community fly in the face of conventional norms and therefore would not pass in any Congress.

    “I’ve talked with transgender activists and what they want — and what we will be forced to defend — is for people with penises who identify as women to be able to shower with other women,” said Frank, citing the (transgender) activists’ handbook which states that a person’s declared gender is the one by which he or she should be recognized. “There are no votes for that. And if that is the price for this bill, it is wrong.”

    Read full story:

    http://www.baywindows.com/index.php?ch=news&sc=glbt&sc2=news&sc3=&id=62988

    ————-

    “People with penises,” what normal people refer to as…men.

    Let that sink in. Mitch Daniels implemented by executive order a policy that was initially too radical even for openly homosexual Congressman Barney Frank.

    I’m thinking that won’t go over real well among social conservatives either.

  • Keith Miller

    Mr. Walker,

    This post was a worthy effort; you touched on every piece of evidence in Gov. Daniels’ favor. I remained unpersuaded, but, obviously, the point is moot for now.

    I would be eager to hear someone make “The Social Conservative Case” for Jon Huntsman.