By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Several months before Paul Tsongas announced that he was going to run for president in 1992, I grabbed a meal with him and with several other political reporters. This was nine years after Tsongas had announced he had lymphoma, and three years after Michael Dukakis had been whipped by George H.W. Bush.
Let's get this straight, we said. What the Democratic Party needs now is another Greek liberal from Massachusetts--with cancer?
And Tsongas, in that strangely endearing mumble of his, said this: "I have a theory. I think the floor is covered with gasoline, and I am going to light a match." If the gas wasn't there, he said, then he would fade pretty quickly. But if he was right, watch out.
Well, the gasoline did not just cover the floor, it was ankle deep. Tsongas campaigned on trust, specificity, and fiscal sanity, won the New Hampshire primary and almost beat Bill Clinton for the Democratic nomination. At which point many Tsongas voters made Ross Perot a household word, and helped Clinton dump Bush in the general election. In eight years, the budget of the U.S. government was running a surplus, and the national debt was being repaid.
I think there is gas on the floor again. And my candidate for match-thrower in 2012 remains the Republican governor of Indiana: Mitch Daniels.
Faithful readers of Thomas Jefferson St. know that the Daniels-in-2012 bandwagon was first gassed and oiled here, many months ago. Only when Daniels announced, in no uncertain terms, that he would not be a candidate, did we drive it into the garage, and close the door.
Well, two things have now happened. Mitch, first off, is looking for another job. Having served his allotted time in Indiana, he is showing a little ankle on the presidential race. The other development is that some smart Republicans have looked at the Sarah, Rand, and Sharron show and said, "Love the antics. But don't we have anyone who relates to the average Joe and Jill, and whose brain is not a gob of Silly String?"
Enter Daniels, who rode a Harley as he campaigned across Indiana, forged a record of fiscal responsibility and innovative reform in Indiana, who knows Washington inside-out, and would like nothing better than to repair the financial affairs of the U.S. of A. He is an independent voter's dream: a sensible, practical guy who wants to get in there and fix the stuff that's broken, and doesn't really care what you do in your bedroom at night.
And with a dry sense of humor. When Daniels was the country's budget director, they played "You Can't Always Get What You Want" on the phone when they put you on hold at the Office of Management and Budget. It's a touch like that which has brought the Reihan Salams, the Andrew Fergusons, and the Ross "Can't We All Wear Black Shirts?" Douthats to write sweet things about the governor in recent days.
Now. Daniels has a Tsongas problem. Just as Saint Paul got ripped by Slick Willie for being insufficiently liberal in the 1992 primaries, Daniels is vulnerable to a RINO attack in the Republican contests in 2012. I'm not sure there are enough Republican-leaning independents who vote in the GOP primaries to let Daniels prevail against the charge that he's insufficiently conservative on those pesky social issues. Daniels is already taking fire for merely suggesting that we save the Republic first, and put the divisive stuff, that so fires up the Church Ladies, on a back burner.
But hey, I could be wrong. A swearing, wenching old Navy pilot, the friend of immigrants and foe of global warming, got the Republican nod last time out.
In Ferguson's profile of Daniels in the Weekly Standard, he says that Daniels (a son of the South) has taken to quoting what a Union Army general once said about its commander, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant: "There was no nonsense, no sentiment; only a plain businessman of the republic; there for the one single purpose of getting that command across the river."
Oh yeah, baby. Tune up the bandwagon. There's a river to cross.