Why Mitch Daniels’ strength is actually his weakness

WHY MITCH DANIELS’ STRENGTH IS ACTUALLY HIS WEAKNESS…. The Washington Post had a fairly long item yesterday, highlighting Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) for his focus on fiscal issues, and pondering whether he’s likely to run for president in 2012. To hear the Post‘s Dan Balz put it, Daniels is uniquely qualified to make his party’s fiscal agenda his own national platform.

No prospective Republican presidential candidate has done more to highlight the issue of debt and deficits than Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. He calls it the “new red menace,” an ocean of red ink that he says is every bit as dangerous as the Soviet nuclear threat during the Cold War.

His call to arms gives him a provocative though politically risky platform for a potential 2012 presidential candidacy. Daniels thinks dealing with the debt problem will require a potentially dramatic restructuring of Medicare for future recipients, revamping Medicaid to slow its spending, and altering Social Security for today’s younger workers by raising the retirement age and recalculating the cost-of-living formula.

What Daniels has long been advocating dovetails with the budget blueprint recently unveiled by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). His entry into the race could ensure that a debate between President Obama and Ryan becomes a central issue of the 2012 campaign. More than any other potential candidate, Daniels would test whether voters are ready for the kind of stiff medicine he prescribes.

This sort of analysis is extremely common, and every time I read it, I shake my head a little more.

As Paul Krugman noted recently, Daniels is “held up as an icon of fiscal responsibility” without having earned it: “[W]hat I can’t forget is his key role in the squandering of the fiscal surplus Bush inherited. It wasn’t just that he supported the Bush tax cuts; the excuses he made for that irresponsibility were stunningly fraudulent.”

It’s just bizarre for a guy who led the Bush/Cheney budget office to pick fiscal responsibility, of all things, as a signature issue.

It was, after all, 10 years ago when George W. Bush signed his first massive tax-cut bill. At the time, he thanked three people for helping make it happen — Dick Cheney, then-Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, and his director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mitch Daniels.

It was that tax-cut package that helped eliminate the massive surplus Bush and Daniels had inherited from the Clinton administration, and began a sea of red ink that, ironically, Daniels is now concerned about.

When asked about this, Daniels tends to blame the end of the dot-com bubble for eliminating Clinton-era surpluses. The argument is utter nonsense, and has been thoroughly debunked.

What’s more, Jamelle Bouie notes that Daniels “badly underestimated the cost of the Iraq War, offering an estimate of $50 to $60 billion for the initial assault, and a forecast of $17 to $45 billion per year of occupation. At best — if we extend those costs to the present — Daniels was off by 2 and a half trillion dollars.”

In theory, this seems like a deal-breaker for Daniels’ presidential ambitions. The base already doesn’t trust him after his proposed “truce” on social issues, and his credibility on deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility is severely undermined by his Bush administration failures.

If only someone would explain this to the media establishment.