The record pundits prefer not to notice

The pundits’ love for Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) appears to be never ending. The latest to fall under his spell is Ruth Marcus.

I hope Mitch Daniels runs for president.

Let me go further: I hope he wins the Republican nomination.

I can’t imagine voting for him.

But Daniels’s presence would improve the 2012 campaign. He’d make Barack Obama a better candidate.

As part of the case for Daniels, the Washington Post columnist notes, “I have a soft spot for OMB directors. The job offers a broad perspective on the operations of the federal government and departments’ competing claims for funding. The OMB director knows where the fat is — and the political forces that prevent it from being cut.” She went on to say the “the real appeal” of a Daniels candidacy is his seriousness about fiscal responsibility, both “as a matter of both substance and politics.”

This is not an uncommon sentiment. And I’ll concede that OMB directors hold the most powerful position most Americans have never heard of, and Daniels is among their alumnus.

But to once again set the record straight, what Marcus neglects to mention is that Daniels’ record as OMB director was something of a disaster.

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 — and for pundits to fall for it.

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 has noted 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 should be a huge weight dragging down 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.