Although Indiana governor Mitch Daniels would like to see his New Jersey counterpart run for president, Daniels said today that he doesn't see any signs Chris Christie will change his mind. “I personally didn’t press him, so I have nothing to report,” Daniels said of his meeting last Thursday with Christie. “I saw no evidence that he’s going to change his mind.”
Daniels, who's in Washington, D.C. hawking his book Keeping the Republic, stopped by the offices of THE WEEKLY STANDARD this afternoon and shared his thoughts on the 2012 Republican field, Social Security reform, Indiana's push for a right-to-work law, and more.
Asked about the debate between Romney and Perry about Social Security, Daniels said, “I thought both of them could stand some improvement." He said that Perry needs to be “scrupulously careful” to insist that current retirees should be unaffected by Social Security reform. Daniels pointed out that he refers to Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme" in his own book.
"I keep pointing out to people who want to jump all over Perry," Daniels said. "I say, look, as soon as journalists began digging into this, they found the very same analogy used all the way back to forty years. Left-wingers, right-wingers, everything in between.”
"Having used it in the book, I realized that my sin wasn’t that I was untruthful," he continued. "I was trite. I feel very unoriginal. I didn’t know how shopworn it really was.”
But if Perry has been right about the nature of Social Security, Daniels said, he also needs to get to "step two:" assuring current retirees that when it comes to reform, "We're not talking about you." Daniels said Perry is starting to get to that step.
Daniels also said that Romney should “think harder” about his rhetoric on the program. “If he wants to president of the United States, this is going to be right in front of him,” he said. “And ideally you’ll have prepared people for some kind of change.”
Should the Republican candidates run on Medicare reform as outlined in Paul Ryan's budget? "Yes, or something like it," Daniels responded. "You know, he’s headed in the right direction.”
So could any of the GOP candidates lead on the issue of entitlement reform and deficit reduction as president? "Yes," Daniels said with a grin. "That's my position, and I'm sticking to it."
Daniels said he hasn't watched any of the Republican presidential debates but that he reads about the most important exchanges. "I never watch the damn things," he said. "I'm a print guy."
On another policy tussle between Romney and Perry, regarding the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” education initiative, Daniels said he supports the policy.
“I’ve supported it, and genuinely so,” he said. “It’s been extraordinary useful to say I agree with the president and his secretary on these basic principles of tenure and teacher evaluation and charter schools. Now, I say we go further, and we did. We really narrowed collective bargaining, they weren’t for that, and we passed a statewide voucher program, they weren’t for that.”
Daniels said it is an asset to point out where he thinks Obama has been right. “When I can find something…where I honestly think they’re headed in the right direction, I think it’s useful to say so,” he said. “It makes you a little more credible when you say they’re all wrong about this over here.”
Turning to issues within his state, Daniels was asked about the future of a legislative effort to pass a right-to-work law in Indiana. He said he is in favor of the law but isn't yet sure the effort to pass will be worth the trouble. He predicted that pro-union forces will lobby very strongly against the bill if it moves forward—“it will be a huge, Madison times two,” Daniels said—and he questioned how its passage would effect job creation.
“Both the proponents and the opponents [of right-to-work laws] overestimate, therefore overstate, the effects of it,” Daniels said. He noted that despite not being a right-to-work state, Indiana is a big magnet for companies looking to relocate or expand their business because of the state’s “pro-business environment.”
Still, he said, many companies pass right over Indiana for consideration because it doesn’t have the law on the books. “Every time somebody rates good business climates, we’re always in the top tier now,” Daniels said. If you look who’s above us, they’re all right-to-work states.”
“It’ll be ugly,” he continued. “You just hope it’s worth it.”