"The Blade" Takes a Stab at the White House

Washington Matters

"The Blade" Takes a Stab at the White House

Without Palin, a wide-open GOP race could play to Mitch Daniels' strengths.

They say you can tell a lot about a person by what he or she reads. If that’s the case, Mitch Daniels’ reading list suggests a serious, determined man who is keen on scrappy underdogs taking on the big shots. It also suggests that the Republican governor of Indiana is serious about jumping into the 2012 presidential race.

Daniels just released his annual list of books that make good gifts or are smart choices “when you sneak out to exchange those fuzzy slippers or that Grateful Dead necktie.” The nine books he names cover a variety of fields -- economics, politics, sports, religion, weather and war. But there are hints of the lone wolf and hard times in many of the titles: The Forgotten Man, by Amity Shlaes; Underdawgs, by David Woods; Lone Survivor, by Marcus Luttrell; The Time It Never Rained, by Elmer Kelton; and After the Fall, by Nicole Gelinas.

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The one-man-against-the-world theme is a fitting one for Daniels, who often had to stand alone in his fight against bloated spending as President George W. Bush’s director of the Office of Management and Budget. He wasn’t popular, but he was good. So good that Bush’s nickname for him was “The Blade.”

A few other titles, and his commentary, suggest that Daniels is giving more than just passing thought to a White House bid of his own. He says that in Who Are We? the late Samuel Huntington “sounds the alarm about the dangers of our eroding sense of national identity.” And he praises City of Man by former Bush speechwriters Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner for its call for religious tolerance.


But the biggest hint is found in the first book on his list: Diplomacy, by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. In an e-mail describing his list, Daniels writes, “If, like me, both your diplomatic history and your sense of the practical aspects of statesmanship could stand some touching up, this is the place to get it done.”

Now why would a two-term governor suddenly be interested in diplomacy and statesmanship? Unless, of course, he is thinking about extending his political career.

On paper, Daniels appears to be a long shot candidate for the GOP nomination. A guy who once said that the unofficial motto for members of Congress was, “Don’t just stand there, spend something,” doesn’t have a lot of friends in official Washington. He has extremely limited foreign policy experience. He is not a household name, doesn’t have a book to hawk or a reality television show to hype. His ability to raise funds for an expensive national race is untested.

But Daniels does have a lot going for him. He’s had staff-level experience in a major city -- Indianapolis --in the U.S. Senate and, of course, in the Bush White House. He knows how the political game is played because of that experience as well as stints as executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and as White House political director during Ronald Reagan’s second term. And 11 years as an executive for pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly gives him an insider’s knowledge of corporate America. He would also run well in his home state, where Obama won narrowly in 2008.


The best thing Daniels has going might be the nickname that Bush bestowed on him. In a political cycle where the ballooning federal deficit and tough spending cut decisions will be high on the list of GOP issues heading into 2012, other potential candidates can talk the talk. “The Blade” actually walked the walk.

The GOP campaign to come up with a candidate to challenge President Obama’s bid for a second term is likely to be wide open, especially if Sarah Palin decides not to run. Like Daniels, many of the potential candidates -- Mitt Romney, Haley Barbour, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee and Palin -- are governors or former governors. But, arguably, not one of them brings to the table as much relevant experience as Daniels.

The road to the White House is littered with qualified candidates who never made it out of the starting gate, or faltered in the early stages of the race. But don’t be surprised if Mitch Daniels emerges from relative obscurity to have a serious shot at the GOP nomination.