CPAC 2011: Mitch Daniels Versus the Red Scare

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 11 2011 9:10 PM

CPAC 2011: Mitch Daniels Versus the Red Scare

I think the social conservative boycott of CPAC jumped the shark when Gov. Mitch Daniels, R-Ind., was announced as the speaker for Friday night's annual Reagan dinner. The conservative coalition behind the boycott attacked Daniels over a quote he gave Andrew Ferguson last year, then repeated to reporters at the Heritage Foundation. Until the debt was attacked and destroyed, he suggested, it was time for a "social truce."

The comment defined Daniels, whom no one has accused of squishiness on any social issue, as a squish. Attacking the idea of a "social truce," which as far as I can tell only reflects political reality, has become an easy applause line for social conservative 2012 contenders.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.

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So tonight's speech became a sort of national political debut speech for Daniels, in front of a friendly audience, with the ancillary issues completely forgotten. (Suhail Khan, the Muslim Republican and ACU board member who also irritates CPAC boycotters, was on the main stage.) It was good. Daniels was that rare speaker who, after being introduced by George Will, outdoes the previous speaker in wordiness and jokes.

What I mean by wordiness -- Daniels was smitten by colorful phrases. "Here I wish to be very plainspoken," he said, before arguing for a return to greatness "with all the passion of our patriotism." On civility: "The public is increasingly disgusted with a steady diet of defamation." On spending cuts: "Here, doctrinal debates are unnecessary; the arithmetic tells it all." But he was good at phrase-coining. Debt, he said, was "the new red scare," and the need to cut spending was America's "raison debt." Oh, that's right. A bilingual pun. And the truce stuff was phrased better:

Purity in martyrdom is for suicide bombers. King Pyrrhus is remembered, but his nation disappeared. Winston Churchill set aside his lifetime loathing of Communism in order to fight World War II. Challenged as a hypocrite, he said that when the safety of Britain was at stake, his 'conscience became a good girl.' We are at such a moment. I for one have no interest in standing in the wreckage of our Republic saying 'I told you so' or 'You should've done it my way.'

I am not worried about Daniels getting tied up by the truce stuff. The rest of the speech was masterful in its portrayal of the Left as socialistic and destructive, and deep cuts as hard but compassionate. The only tough joke at the expense of Barack Obama was about his Nobel Peace Prize. There was nothing about social issues apart from what I quoted above, and another bit comparing the current problem and need to ignore other issues with what would happen if an army invaded.

Energy: "Drill, and frack, and lease, and license, unleash in every way the jobs potential in the enormous energy resources we have been denying ourselves."

Earmarks: "In the cause of national solvency, they are a trifle."

On cuts: "I personally favor restoring impoundment power to the presidency, at least on an emergency basis."

Success: The speech ended and a few cries of "Run, Mitch, Run!" went up.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.