Mitch Daniels is the best governor in America.
When he took office in early 2005, Indiana faced a $200 million deficit and hadn’t balanced its budget in seven years. Four years later, all outstanding debts had been paid off, and after four consecutive balanced budgets, Daniels' Indiana was running a surplus of $1.3 billion to cushion it against the recession.
Under Daniels' watch, Indiana has its fewest state employees since 1978. The state has the lowest effective property taxes and the third-lowest per capita spending of any state in the union. Indiana has reclaimed its long-lost triple-A bond rating.
He is as tough as Chris Christie on state spending, though he's done it much less bombastically.
On his first day as governor, Daniels signed an executive order banning collective bargaining by state employees. This was in 2005 -- six years before anyone heard of Scott Walker.
Shortly thereafter, he put a 120-day moratorium on new school bond issues. He required school boards across the state to show cause if they proposed any project costing more per square foot than the national average.
“More than $40,000 to teach someone how to read?" he once quizzed a reporter. "Any school district that can’t do it ought to face consequences.”
Fundamentally, Daniels gets it, as this Weekly Standard piece demonstrates.
“I want citizens to understand,” he said. “When people start demanding we spend more money, they’re saying, ‘We want to raise your taxes.’ And the citizens should say, ‘Okay, tell me. Which one of my taxes do you want to raise?"
Presidential primaries are full of shape-shifters (Mitt Romney, John Kerry), panderers (Newt Gingrich, John Edwards) and demagogues (Sarah Palin, Howard Dean). Mitch Daniels is none of those. He won't set a crowd afire with a stirring call to arms, and probably won't be interested in tossing much red meat to the base.
But as George Will has said, Daniels has the "charisma of competence" and pushes "conservatism for grown-ups."
That's because Daniels' record as a true fiscal conservative speaks for itself.
It's stunning that Daniels has received any criticism from any quarter of the Republican Party, considering he best embodies the ideals of Ronald Reagan -- low taxes, limited government and free markets.
And it's laughable that a self-styled "true believer" like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity would endorse anyone else. If you are a true Reaganite, Daniels is your man. Perhaps a case can be made for Tim Pawlenty or Haley Barbour (if he runs), but lining up behind anyone else is nonsense.
Daniels has risen to prominence not due to rhetoric or personal charm, but on sheer results. By contrast, Romney's case for the presidency entirely hinges on him convincing voters to ignore the type of governor he was in Massachusetts.
Daniels has accumulated a mountain of evidence to suggest that he would be a tremendous president.
He doesn't need rhetoric -- he's delivered results.
UPDATE: Don't get me wrong: I love -- LOVE -- Chris Christie. He, almost singlehandedly, is responsible for exposing public-sector unions for the corrupt bloodsuckers that they are. If Christie ran for president and Daniels didn't, the big man from Trenton would be my clear-cut first choice. That said, as Jay Gatsby notes here, Daniels is fundamentally much more conservative than Christie. Daniels wants to overturn Roe v. Wade; Christie has said he wouldn't "shove" his pro-life beliefs "down people's throats." Christie has expressed support for public-sector collective bargaining; Daniels outlawed it six years ago. Christie is a virtual Democrat on gun control; Daniels is a pal of the NRA. Simply more evidence that the Egghead Wing of the GOP is more concerned with rhetoric than results.