Gary Johnson

With Mitch Daniels Republicanism on the Outs, Mitch Daniels Cozies up to Gary Johnson

Former Indiana governor pushes for Libertarian nominee's inclusion in the debates, hosts a big event for him at Purdue, and writes WSJ op-Ed about an issue only Johnson is any good on

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Around 1,000 people watched Gary Johnson and Mitch Daniels in Purdue on Tuesday. ||| Matt Welch
Matt Welch

"You just gave a string of…intelligent, candid, politically risky, unpredictable answers, all apparently grounded in a consistent political philosophy," former Indiana governor and current Purdue University President Mitch Daniels told Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson Tuesday night, after an hour-long Q&A in front of 1,000* enthusiastic attendees at Purdue. "What are you doing in this election?"

If it were up to some #NeverTrump conservatives, the question would be inverted, and thrown back at Mitch Daniels: "What are you doing NOT in this election?" In June, syndicated columnist George Will, a longtime fan, lamented that "Purdue has the president America needs." (Asked about Daniels by the Lafayette Journal & Courier last December, Will said "Every time I open the page and see who's running for president, I think of the man who isn't there.")

The case for Daniels would have been obvious in your father's GOP. As governor of Indiana from 2005-2013, he was Scott Walker without the drama, reforming public-sector union rules and benefits, reducing the state's workforce, contracting out stuff the government didn't need to monopolize, introducing right-to-work laws, fixing the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, balancing budgets and leaving a surplus. He was chief of staff for Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) in the '70s and '80s, helped Indianapolis mayor Stephen Goldsmith make that city a trailblazer for privatization in the '90s, served as George W. Bush's director of Office of Budget and Management in the early aughts, and bracketed those governmental stints with work at nonprofits (Hudson Institute) and mega-profits (Eli Lilly). He is a decent and likable fellow who takes federalism seriously, name-checks Virginia Postrel, famously called for a "truce" on Culture War issues while we focus like a laser beam on fixing the country's godawful long-term fiscal picture, and genuinely believes that government can be done better by making it smaller.

In other words, there's very little room for Mitch Daniels in today's GOP.

This may help explain why, over the past 10 days, Daniels has been all up in the business of a similar former governor, Gary Johnson, in the run-up to the Libertarian Party nominee finding out whether he will be selected to participate in the first presidential debate on Sept. 26.

Daniels is no mere spectator to that decision—he's one of 14 board members of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), the controversial "nonpartisan" body created by the Republican and Democratic parties in 1987 to serve as gatekeepers for general election presidential debates. And on Sept. 7, while conducting a public Q&A with the co-chair of the CPD, former Bill Clinton White House spokesman Mike McCurry, Daniels became the first board member to publicly endorse the inclusion of Gary Johnson into the debates. "People are so obviously shopping and wishing for some other choice," Daniels said. "This is awfully important." As for the Democratic-Republican matchup, "I hope each party will come to be led by people who want to compete for the center."

That last sentiment in particular fits snugly into one of Johnson's go-to campaign pitches (one that he repeated by Daniels' side six days later): that he and vice presidential nominee William Weld are in the six-lane highway at the neglected center of American politics. And in that center are some distinctly Danielsesque notions of good government, personal decency, and an honest confrontation of the country's most pressing and difficult policy issues, starting with the dire long-term fiscal outlook of the United States.

And lo and behold, Mitch Daniels had a Wall Street Journal op-Ed on that topic the very next day. Excerpt:

A national government that, year after year, borrows enormous sums and spends them not on genuine investment in the future but on current consumption, passing the bill down to others, pretending that the problem is smaller than it really is, lacks not only good judgment but integrity. It is not hyperbole to label such behavior immoral. […]

In fairness, a few members in each political party have tried to address the coming crisis. To them, all thanks and credit. To those still in denial, or even advocating steps that would make our debts even higher, please reconsider. Your careers may end happily before the reckoning. Your re-elections may not be threatened by your inaction. But your consciences—and what Lincoln called "government of the people, by the people, for the people"—will be.

The piece, half of which is just pure exasperation at how obvious these observations should be to governing Democrats and Republicans, does not mention any third-party politicians. But as I point out in my October-issue cover story, it is remarkable the extent to which the major parties and their presidential candidates have recently abandoned even rhetorical feints toward clipping the growth of long-term spending, and instead have made extravagant promises of vast new government spending projects. Meanwhile, the only White House aspirants who make tackling the debt central to their campaign are Johnson and Weld.

Given the death of the Mitch Daniels GOP, and the fact that the only people acting like the adults in the room are Libertarians, a natural question arises: Where the heck are the endorsements from politicians who in their heart know Johnson is right?

In Daniels' case, he doesn't want to ruffle political feathers as the ex-politician head of a public university. But he's hardly the only limited-government and/or independent-bent Republican ex-pol who feels alienated from Donald Trump's crass, big-government GOP, and who can certainly recognize a ticket of '90s blue-state Republican governors as two of their own. Yet about the only thing you'll get from the Christine Todd Whitmans and Arnold Schwarzeneggers of the world is "let them debate."

Which is better than nothing, but the reluctance to endorse is still striking, particularly for those (unlike, say, sitting senators such as Mike Lee and Jeff Flake), who no longer have to face voters and endure caucus meetings. It is a testament to the abiding power of two-party mental frameworks and social habits that, faced with two of the most statist presidential candidates either major party has thrown up in several generations, no major libertarian-leaning politicians or ex-politicians can bring themselves to endorse the ticket that absolutely agrees with them about the core issue facing the country.

* Some Johnson campaign staffers are furious at my estimate here, insisting it was closer to 2,000, and pointing to a Lafayette Journal & Courier article estimating a crowd of "at least" 1,380. For what it's worth, I counted the seats beforehand, and conducted five audience head-counts, the last of which came to 900, 10 minutes before the start of the Q&A.

Bonus link 1: Me presciently disagreeing with The Volokh Conspiracy's David Bernstein in May 2011, when he argued that given the GOP prominence of Mitch Daniels, Ron Paul, and Gary Johnson, it was time for the Libertarian Party to "fold shop."

Bonus link 2: Me interviewing Mitch Daniels last May:

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  1. You know who else had a political movement that’s on the outs…

    1. The Whigs?

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    2. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh?

      1. +100 Osho Rolls-Royces

    3. At least it’s an ethos.

  2. I was digging through some old stuff the other day, and was surprised that I still had a bucket with an old “My Man Mitch” sticker on it. He’s one of the few good ones left in the GOP, and he’s done great things at my alma mater.

    1. Aw, how nostalgic. Makes me wanna dig up my old puke bucket from college, too.

      1. haha, the puke bucket had an Obama bumper sticker on it. This was the aquarium waste water bucket, because I was that cool college kid with an aquarium in my room. /sarc

    2. Daniels was a great governor. He did a lot to make Indiana financially secure, eliminating the debt issues that Illinois is now facing. One time every citizen got a tax refund from that year’s budget surplus. All the lefty’s and the teachers unions hated him, but nobody took them seriously because the financial results spoke for themselves. Then Pence came along and fucked it all up.

    3. I was digging through some old stuff the other day, and was surprised that I still had a bucket with an old “My Man Mitch” sticker on it.

      You say that like you found an ‘I like Ike!’ button. The guy was campaigning in this decade!

      Fekking millennials.

  3. RE: With Mitch Daniels Republicanism on the outs, Mitch Daniels Cozies up to Gary Johnson

    All right.
    Let’s get the stake, the gasoline and matches.
    We need to burn this traitor to the stake for treason.
    Leaving the republican/democrat plantation does have its price.
    Nothing is for free.

  4. I thought Trump followed Daniels’ policy of declaring a truce in several traditional culture-war issues. He dropped any serious concern about protecting marriage, he “converted” to prolife in what seems a fairly opportunistic – and probably short-lived – manner, he showcased an “out” gay guy at the convention. I’m not sure what more Trump would have to do in order to put “culture war” issues behind him.

    Actuall, I *do* know what Trump would have to do – he’d have to drop his support for gun rights, another culture-war issue which annoys the “centrist” crowd.

    Actually, though, for all his talk, I don’t think Daniels would be accepted as a centrist in the eyes of the cognoscenti. His support of fiscal reform doesn’t make him a centrist, it makes him an extremist pushing Grandma off the cliff.

    1. Seriously, the Democratic candidate wants spending increases, the Republican candidate wants spending increases, so how can support for spending *cuts* be a centrist position between the extremes of both parties?

      1. Have you never seen a parabola?

        1. A parabola (ballistic trajectory) is the last thing seen by way too many people, just not enough Kleptocrats.

  5. He is a decent and likable fellow who takes federalism seriously, name-checks Virginia Postrel

    Ok, so which commenter is Mitch Daniels?

    1. It says “decent and likable,” so obviously none of us.

      1. Hey, speak for yourself, I’m perfectly likable, you asshole.

        1. Papist Eddie is a useful especially idiot.

          1. Hey, at least I’m good at *something.*

    2. This place hasn’t been the same since Mitch Daniels left…

      So… Nicole?

      1. I was thinking Episiarch. I could see him as the governor of Indiana.

  6. “Daniels is no mere spectator to that decision?he’s one of 14 board members of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), ”
    1 of 14 works out to be about 7%. Oh the irony

    1. So he’s 7% responsible for Matt Lauer? Get him!

  7. “Yet about the only thing you’ll get from the Christie Todd Wittmans and ”

    CHRISTINE Todd WHITMAN

  8. I remember in 2012 when he gave the state of the union rebuttal and my roommate, a pretty liberal guy, was impressed by him and thought he’d be the next was going to be the next serious republican presidential candidate. I laughed at the thought and said the GOP would never in a 1000 years nominate someone as palatable as him.

    1. maybe he’ll be the libertarian moment in 2020

    2. I think the GOP would have (or at least, I thought so before they nominated Trump), but he got out of politics due to his wife, so he would never have been in the running for the job.

  9. Mitch Daniels: the one and only politician who ever gave me anything. (He gave me my doctorate diploma.)

    Good guy, has been a strong and non-shitty leader as the uni president, and he really did take the state in a good, if not flawless, direction.

  10. If everyone that had said Gary Johnson should be in the debates had simply endorsed him, he’d be over 15% by now.

  11. Isn’t Mitch Daniels the walking definition of a cuckservative? His wife left him (and his 4 daughters) to go off to California with some doctor. And when she tired of that and wanted to come home Daniels welcomed her back.

    1. What the fuck does that have to do with his political views? Prove he’s willing to reconcile with a difficult situation? Yeah, that’s terrible. We should just attach pariah status to him now…

      1. The ‘cuckservative’ comment always struck me as being worse than the ‘I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast.’ insult.

        If I had to choose between being a conservative who has sex with Hillary Clinton and the conservative who just sits back and watches I think the answer is pretty obvious. If having sex with Hillary Clinton somehow lowered taxes or enhanced freedom I might understand the tradeoff but without that, it’d be like the conservative having sex with Hillary just really wanted to have sex with her.

        1. …sex with Hillary Clinton…

          *BARF*

          Couldn’t… make it… any further… *PROJECTILE VOMITS PROFUSELY*

          God damn you! GOD DAMN YOU STRAIGHT TO HELL!!!!!!!

      2. No, I am happy he’s backing Gary.

        But I remember when Mitch’s name was floated for President back in 2008 or 2012 that a couple of my real right-wing friends said they’d never vote for the guy specifically because of the deal with the wife.

  12. I’ve always thought that Mitch was the most libertarian politician who could ever win the GOP nomination. More so than Rand.

  13. If Trump loses, there will be an exodus from the GOP to the Libertarian party. The LP would become the second party.

    Hillary Clinton would receive the blame for the failures of big government, the bankrupt and collapsing welfare state.

    By 2020 America could finally be ready for a serious individual liberty and limited government alternative.

    If Clinton continues to be the worst candidate ever and Trump actually wins, capitalism, conservatism and by association libertarianism will be blamed for everything that follows.

    A Trump presidency would pave the way for undiluted millennial socialism in 2020.

    1. Not likely. The GOP/Democrats are too entrenched. There may be a relatively major realignment but the GOP and Democrats will still exist and the LP will still be a minor party.

    2. I fear the LP is in no shape to handle Prime Time. While 50 state ballot access is amazing, GJ doing as awesome as he is, and several states like NV and CO killing it, STILL the LP is no where near the organizational adult that the other two parties are. In Colorado, the law currently states, if you are a major party then you must have a precinct president in each precinct, you must hold district assemblies, you must meet a ton of bureaucratic requirements. The ACP (Tancredo got more than 10%) made it 4 years ago and it killed them. The LP, even with 35k registered, doesn’t have a registered voter in every precinct (we used to be missing two whole counties but I am not sure about that anymore).

      1. “precinct president in each precinct,'”
        Hire them like businesses do with registered agents in states where you don’t have a physical presence but that require someone to accept service, etc.

        1. I kinda thought half the goal was to dismember the two-party system and do away with political party protectionism. This is beginning to sound like ‘Meet the new boss…’.

          Not saying it can’t or shouldn’t be done, it just seems like the sort of thing that could have foreseen unforeseen consequences.

      2. Don’t have to be. By getting spoiler votes the LP forces the looters to change the laws that irritate us the most. When I vote libertarian I am guaranteed the laws will change in the direction I wanted 45 years ago and never got. “The Case For Voting Libertarian” has been online in text and audio, now two languages, and there is no escaping the lessons of history that third party spoiler votes make those bastards running the Kleptocracy repeal whatever laws they have to to keep a hand in the till and snout in the trough.
        Most of the LP candidates I know don’t even WANT to win. We want freedom, and if we can WIN, that is, achieve freedom through platforms, candidates and spoiler votes instead of becoming whores ourselves, so much the better!

    3. I agree with Peter. The worst the Dems can do is try to revive communism. But even the most drooling of idiots knows communism HAS to fail in death camps, bankruptcy, slavery… it’s no longer a threat without tens of thousands of 100-kt nukes and a State to operate them.

  14. “in the six-lane highway at the neglected center of American politics”

    If the Libertarian candidate can in any way be categorized as being in the center of American politics then that candidate is not a libertarian. Which this one, with his betrayal of Freedom of Association and Freedom of Trade stances, toleration of abridgement of the Second Amendment, and selection of a Clinton-appointment-accepting running mate, is not.

    1. Not to mention lacking any significant entitlement reform. With this candidates. Libertarians have no cllaim to fiscal responsibility.

    2. Great! Another communist anarchist infiltrator from the 1980 Soviet Surrender Movement! Gary knows and we know that even if every voter in AkeriKKKa were to cast their ballots for him the vote COUNT would be reported as perhaps 3%. But this would generate interest in verifiable votes (kinda the online banking version of Heinlein’s voting in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress)

  15. contracting out stuff the government didn’t need to monopolize

    Not really. If I recall correctly, Indiana still has a government.

  16. “Ahnold” is libertarian leaning?

  17. What he did, lame duck Herbert Hoover tried in 1932. But Hoover bundled in an Executive Order letting State income tax collectors look at federal corporate tax returns. Congress did away with a half-dozen consolidation EOs but left the income tax inspections stand… and banks began shutting down one after another. By the time FDR took the oath and made it a felony for banks NOT to shut down, there were no banks left open to even disobey the “holiday” order. The George Bush asset-forfeiture depression been berry berry good to Indiana.

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