Daniels for president? Writer pleads again


If George Will asks Mitch Daniels often enough, will the Purdue University president and former Indiana governor finally cave and make a run for the White House?

In a recent column in the Washington Post, Will — an unabashed fan of Daniels and his work — wrote: “Purdue has the president the nation needs.”

Will picked up on the commencement speeches Daniels delivered in May to the Class of 2016, when the Purdue president told graduates they were products of hard work, not dumb luck. Will put Daniels’ speech up against one President Barack Obama gave earlier in May, in which he told Howard University graduates: “Yes, you’ve worked hard, but you’ve also been lucky. That’s a pet peeve of mine: people who have been successful and don’t realize they’ve been lucky.”

That bit from Obama made Will chafe considerably and long for the brand of conservatism Daniels might have brought to a 2016 campaign that features two options that most definitely make the Post columnist shudder.

“Daniels’s words to the Class of 2016 clarify why the 2016 presidential campaign offers an echo, not a choice. The presumptive Democratic nominee is a progressive committed to government ambitious enough to iron the wrinkles of luck out of life, and to distribute equity to life’s victims, meaning to everyone. The presumptive Republican nominee is a world-class whiner (a victim of debate moderators who are meanies, and most recently of a “rigged” judicial system) who is telling Americans that they are comprehensively victimized (by wily Chinese exporters, manufacturers making Oreo cookies abroad, freeloading allies, etc.). Purdue has the president the nation needs.”

This isn’t the first time Will has confessed his allegiance to all things Mitch Daniels.

In an interview in December, ahead of an appearance at Purdue, I had this exchange with Will:

Question: So, is it fair to say you’re still a Mitch Daniels fan?

Will: Oh, yes. Every time I open the page and see who’s running for president, I think of the man who isn’t there.

Q: So what do you think a Daniels White House would be, had he run and had he won in 2012?

Will: I think if he had run, he would have won. And I think there would be a calm in the country. Mitch Daniels is a grown-up. He’s vastly familiar with the federal machinery, having been a chief budgeteer. He knows where the waste is. He knows where the institutional lines should be drawn in this country. He wouldn’t be given to executive overreach of the sort we’re seeing these days. And he would just radiate a sense of adult supervision.

It’s also not the first call for Daniels to jump into the fray. When some Indiana GOP delegates traded in “Never Trump” to float “Draft Mitch” talk ahead of the state’s May primary, Daniels brushed off the recruiting effort.

Through a university spokeswoman, Daniels said reaction “falls somewhere along the lines of half Gen. Sherman and half Sgt. Schultz on the topic.” In other words, to quote Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman: “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.” And to quote Sgt. Schultz from sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes”: “I know nothing.”

Daniels resisted the call in 2012, as he was finishing his term as governor. And he’s committed to Purdue, with an extended contract that pays him a total of $1 million in retention bonuses, through 2020.

Is this George Will column — one that reads more like a lament for this year’s election than it does a recruiting plea — one that changes Daniels’ mind? Probably not.

Does it end the Draft Mitch dreams? Not a chance.

Dave Bangert is a writer for the (Lafayette) Journal and Courier. Send comments do [email protected].

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