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Politics

Mitch Daniels Could Be Obama’s Nightmare

The Indiana governor’s candidacy would force a serious discussion of budget cuts and the economy.

If there’s one potential Republican candidate who makes President Obama’s reelection team sweat, it has to be Mitch Daniels.

The Indiana governor, more than any other GOP hopeful for 2012, would force a serious discussion of budget cuts and the economy. This just happens to be Daniels’ strength. There was a reason, after all, that President George W. Bush called him “The Blade” when Daniels directed the Office of Management and Budget for the White House.

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And the economy just happens to be Obama’s Achilles’ heel.

To be sure, other possible Republican presidential candidates will hammer away at the deficit, the unemployment rate and related topics. But when it comes to making difficult spending decisions in Washington, the others can only talk about what they would do. Daniels has already done it.

And most of the others have baggage that Democrats (and their Republican primary opponents) can use to deflect their economic arguments. Mitt Romney? He’d have some explaining to do about his Massachusetts health plan, used as a blueprint for Obama’s plan, which he now opposes. Jon Huntsman? He was Obama’s ambassador to China. Donald Trump? Some of his casinos went belly-up and now he wants to run the country? Newt Gingrich? Remind me what led his own party to lose confidence in him as House Speaker after the “Republican Revolution” of 1994. Tim Pawlenty? The guy who once backed Obama’s cap-and-trade energy proposal that many Republicans bash? Michele Bachmann? The list goes on.

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Daniels has some baggage, too. Every candidate does. But most of his will be exploited by opponents for the GOP nomination, such as his suggestion that conservatives set aside concerns about abortion rights and other social issues and focus on the debt and deficit. And some conservatives will no doubt make noise about the fact that Daniels has been married twice, albeit to the same woman.

In a general election matchup against Obama, Daniels would have just one main weakness -- no foreign policy experience to speak of. It’s a glaring gap in the resume, for sure. But in the end, it probably won’t matter. With the exception of Huntsman’s time as a diplomat in China, none of the top GOP contenders has serious foreign policy chops. That puts them in the same boat Obama was in during the 2008 campaign, when the GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, argued that the Democrat had no global smarts, so why would voters even think about putting him in the White House.

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That argument is no longer operative, given that Osama bin Laden is under the sea and Libya’s dictator is under siege. In fact, here’s a pretty safe bet: If the 2012 presidential election is about foreign policy, Obama wins a second term with ease. But odds are, it won’t be. It is much more likely to be about fiscal matters.

On economic grounds, Mitch Daniels is perfectly positioned to challenge Obama. He is, in a sense, the GOP’s modern-day Dwight Eisenhower. Like Daniels, Ike was reluctant to run and had to be cajoled into the 1952 race. And, just as Daniels has no foreign experience, Eisenhower was light on dealing with economic issues.

But in 1952, the economy was humming along after slogging through the shortages of World War II. Instead of worrying about that, voters were concerned about hostilities in Korea, the spread of communism and the first stirrings of what would become the Cold War. A military hero was just the ticket.

Nearly 60 years later, we’re seeing the flip side. Daniels can be the GOP’s man of the moment. He, more than any other Republican, can give Obama a headache.

But only if he runs. Expect an answer this month, but don’t be surprised by whatever he decides.

His family wants him to stay on the sidelines. His party hopes to change his mind.

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