Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has a message for the Republicans running for president: Go big.
“I’m hoping that our eventual nominee will decide to run the kind of campaign that could lay the predicate for a big set of changes. And there is plenty of time for that,” Daniels said Friday at a roundtable with reporters at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.
“I know most of them, and there are some really good people with the right character and skill set to be president,” he said of the field, brushing away the notion that another candidate necessarily needs to get in the race to ensure someone presses for the kinds of fiscal reform measures he has encouraged. Daniels will be one of the most sought-after endorsements of 2012: One of the GOP hopefuls, Mitt Romney, spent Friday evening talking to Republicans in Indianapolis, where he went out of the way to praise the state's popular governor.
Daniels has been promoting his new book, Keeping the Republic: Saving America by Trusting Americans, which was released Tuesday. In it, Daniels calls attention to the serious threat presented by the nation’s debt level and proposes ideas for reforming Social Security and Medicare.
“On Social Security, I don’t mention privatization, not because I’m against the idea, but I guess I have come to two conclusions,” Daniels said Friday. “We’ve got to get serious about these things, and we have to start with things we know will start taking zeroes off the exposure we have. So I suggest means-testing, ending the over-indexation at least for some people … and the age limit. Those three things I think are sensible and saleable.”
But even as he expressed hope the eventual Republican nominee would be up to the task of addressing the nation’s larger fiscal woes and the more specific problems with Social Security and Medicare, the former Office of Management and Budget director who served under George W. Bush also cautioned that if President Obama is weakened politically in the run-up to November 2012, the Republican nominee might opt to wage a less ambitious and perhaps more politically innocuous challenge.
“It’s increasingly likely, I believe, that the president is going to be in desperate political shape when this election gets here,” he said. “I could see where our candidates and our nominee, whoever that is, decide to play it safe, and try to win as the default option. You know: ‘Things are awful, he made it worse, I’m not him, vote for me.’”
Recently, Daniels has signaled frustration over the current debate in the Republican race over Social Security, which largely centers on Texas Gov. Rick Perry's suggestion that the program is a “Ponzi Scheme” and Mitt Romney'e efforts to cast Perry as a figure who will scare off senior voters with threats to dismantle the popular retirement program.
“I don’t think any of this is very helpful,” Daniels told The New York Times. “If there’s a problem with ‘Ponzi scheme,’ it is that it’s too frank, not that it’s wrong. But by stopping there, he might be unnecessarily scaring people.”
Daniels is term-limited out of running for reelection in 2012 and gave a presidential campaign of his own strong consideration earlier this year before announcing in May that he would not run. He hasn’t ruled out the possibility of accepting the vice presidential nomination, if asked, but says he doesn’t know if he ultimately would. “There are questions for which there is no answer, and that’s one of them,” he said.
Asked which current Democratic governor is the best in the country right now, Daniels pointed to Delaware Gov. Jack Markell.
“He came from business, which is probably one reason,” said Daniels. “But he’s just very balanced.”
Daniels also mentioned Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a moderate Democrat who served as governor before being elected to the Senate in 2010.