Erik Kain comments on Mitch Daniels’ scheduled response to the State of the Union tonight:

On a more serious note, Daniels must know this isn’t the proper forum for a soft-spoken guy like him. What gives? Maybe he knows that this will shatter any hopes that he’ll enter the race and can think of no better way to shake the speculation.

I’m still curious why so many on the right seem to think Daniels would make such a good candidate. He’s short, soft-spoken, and not particularly “presidential” in any sense of the word. Worse still, he can’t really appeal to the base. He has none of Newt’s flare. He’s good on some policies – prison reform, for instance – but he adds very little to the current line-up.

If I had to guess why there is still interest in a Daniels candidacy at this time, I would say that it is a version of the pundit’s fallacy, but applied to the party as a whole. As Yglesias defined it, “The pundit’s fallacy is that belief that what a politician needs to do to improve his or her political standing is do what the pundit wants substantively.” When applied to the party as a whole, it is much the same. It goes something like this: “If the party is going to win the next presidential election, it must have a nominee focused on the issue that the pundit believes to be the major difference between the parties, which the pundit thinks is a vote-winner for his party as well as being the right policy.” Put another way, this fallacy is the belief that major policy proposals win presidential elections, so the best presidential candidate needs to be an expert on the relevant policies. Maybe we can call it the wonk’s fallacy.

To make this error, one has to confuse one’s own approval of a politician’s support for the preferred policy with that politician’s electability, and to do that one must first overestimate the public’s support for that policy. In Daniels’ case, the main issue is entitlement reform/debt reduction, which is very popular among Republican pundits and policy wonks and not very popular with the general public. To be a Daniels booster at this late stage one must also believe that a campaign centered around entitlement reform/debt reduction will lead to Republican victory. This view has the small flaw that it doesn’t seem to be grounded in any evidence.

As I was thinking about Daniels’ presidential boomlet last year, I recalled that Daniels had done some of the same things that later made conservatives so distrustful of Huntsman. Hardly anyone seems to remember it now, but the general conservative reaction to this glowing Daniels profile in The New Yorker was not positive. According to the profile’s author, Hendrik Hertzberg, the outline of a Daniels campaign was one that sounds remarkably Huntsmanesque:

His candidacy, if it comes off, will test the (rather dubious) hypothesis that Republicans might be willing to forgo some of the visceral pleasures of an eighteen-month-long Hate Week in exchange for nominating someone capable of appealing to moderates and other infidels.

Maybe Daniels could have succeeded where Huntsman failed, but I’m not seeing how. Granted, instead of the cold and even hostile reception Huntsman got from conservative media outlets, Daniels would be given more attention and favorable coverage, and he wouldn’t have any connection to the Obama administration to explain away, but the tone and substance of a Daniels campaign would likely have been almost indistinguishable from that of Huntsman (except that Daniels might have been less interested in starting a war with Iran). Huntsman embraced Paul Ryan’s budget plan and Medicare reform proposal, and I assume that Daniels would have adopted something similar.

Daniels was talking about cutting the military budget in the name of fiscal responsibility. When Huntsman proposed something similar, he was demonized for running to “the left” of Obama on the issue. To the extent that anyone took Daniels seriously as a possible presidential contender last year, hawks attacked him for these comments at the time. Daniels was also more willing than Huntsman to consider raising taxes to increase revenues. One important difference between the two was that Daniels didn’t make the mistake of running, and Huntsman did. We can get some idea of how Daniels would have fared in the nominating contest by looking at Huntsman’s results.