Now that Mitch Daniels has decided to step down as president of Purdue University, the U.S. House of Representatives Jan. 6 Select Committee has made clear that there’s a retirement project waiting for him.
He can try to return his political party—the Republican Party—to sanity.
He may be one of the few people who can.
The committee hearings thus far have revealed just how much work Daniels would have to do if he took on the task. Those hearings have demonstrated that much of the GOP has coalesced around a series of lies and that it serves no principle or purpose greater than its individual members’ immediate political self-interest.
Most Republicans are so terrified of the wrath of former President Donald Trump that they’re willing not only to swallow but to spout whatever falsehoods and other delusional prattle dribbles from his lips. To placate him, they again and again have violated longtime core conservative values of free trade, individual liberty and scrupulous devotion to the rule of law.
When they talk off-the-record about Trump, many Republicans make clear that they can’t stand the man. Privately, they consider him a con artist, a bully and a coward, a damaged figure whose tethers to reality range from negligible to non-existent.
But they also know that Trump commands a significant public following, and that the untethered, unbalanced nature of his being makes him dangerous to confront. He is the sort of guy who will tear everything down to keep someone else from, as he sees it, beating him.
If he loses, everyone has to lose.
That’s why so few Republicans, despite their reservations about the man and his character, have been willing to challenge the former president.
U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, have been the notable exceptions.
But Romney can afford to do so because he’s sitting on a personal fortune that may be larger than Trump’s and he serves a state where the Romney family name looms large.
Cheney is a different story.
Although she, too, has a renowned political pedigree, unlike Romney, she is closer to the beginning of her political career than the end. Her principled opposition to Trump is at the very least likely to temporarily derail her career—and it may destroy it.
That is what makes her a true profile in courage.
Neither Romney nor Cheney, though, has the intellectual heft that Daniels does.
During his eight years as Indiana’s governor, Daniels established the Hoosier state as a kind of laboratory for conservative governance. No other public figure of his time or any time that has followed has been the idea generator that Daniels was in office.
He also didn’t shy away from tough fights. A believer in honestly balanced budgets, he was willing to support modest tax increases if they were accompanied by deeper spending cuts. He understood that politics was the art of achieving the possible.
He and I often disagreed.
Some of those disagreements were big ones over important questions. Doubtless, we will continue to have differences of opinion.
But I always have respected both his intellect and his intellectual honesty.
That’s because our debates were always about ideas, about the ways facts could be interpreted—not whether facts even matter. I inevitably found that, when I considered one of his ideas or plans from his perspective and started with his set of assumptions, I ended up in the same place that he did.
When we did differ, it was because I questioned his premise.
His logic was always flawless from that point forward.
Aside from his intellectual qualifications, Daniels also has his own impressive political pedigree. An heir of sorts to the legacies of both President Ronald Reagan and longtime U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, he has solid credentials both as a movement conservative and a pragmatist who can get things done.
He’s in his early 70s now, but he’s still younger than Trump, current President Joe Biden or Romney, for that matter.
Doubtless, Daniels feels—with justice—that he’s put in his time and has earned a chance to retire in peace.
Destiny, though, often demands much of people with the talents such as Daniels possesses and denies such people respite, even when they have earned it.
Right now, destiny is asking Mitch Daniels if he has at least one more good fight left in him.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. Send comment to [email protected]