by Russ Roberts on April 13, 2011

in Debt and Deficits, Politics, Uncategorized

I’ve thought for a while that Mitch Daniels would make a good Presidential candidate. The best candidates for the GOP will be the anti-Obamas. That rules out Romney (too good-looking and too unwilling to attack his own health care reform in Massachusetts). That elevates Daniels and Christie. Both are dramatically less elegant and Ivy-League than the President and both have a track record for fiscal responsibility. It looks like Daniels will run. i think Christie will run if no one jumps out early. He will be “talked into” running.

UPDATE: Bret asks in the comments:

Would he make a good president? Or just a good presidential candidate? Obama was a great presidential candidate, but maybe not such a great president.

I deliberately wrote “candidate” in the post. Whoever is the next President is going to run on fiscal responsibility. If that is a winning platform, that candidate will find a willing Congress. So the best candidate for the GOP will be the candidate who can sell that theme most effectively. I suspect Obama will be selling the same theme. He will find it harder to sell.

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Bret April 13, 2011 at 11:12 am

Would he make a good president? Or just a good presidential candidate? Obama was a great presidential candidate, but maybe not such a great president.

rpl April 13, 2011 at 11:28 am

That rules out Romney (too good-looking … )

Russ, isn’t there a Bayesian argument hidden in here? Suppose there are two causes of success in politics: “shallow” (i.e., easy to observe) factors like appearance or rhetorical ability and “deep” (i.e., hard to observe) factors like knowledge or judgment. If you observe that a candidate has the shallow factors, then the Bayesian phenomenon of “explaining away” suggests that he is unlikely to have the deep factors. Therefore, if you wish to elect a candidate with knowledge, judgement, etc., you should (all else being equal) pick the ugly candidate who is a poor speaker.

Brad Warbiany April 13, 2011 at 4:11 pm


I’d think that in some cases (i.e. generally unproven candidates) it is perhaps true. All else being equal, two candidates with equal evident qualifications (where qualifications are largely hard to discern), it might be optimal to pick the less “polished” version because you know they didn’t BS their way into it. This might be true in, say, an Obama vs. Marco Rubio type battle (assuming such occurred in 2008), where neither had established a track record as an executive rather than a legislator.

That said, in some cases you can judge performance (the “deep” characteristics). This is likely why Presidencies are more often born of governorships than of the Senate. Everyone can see what Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, or Gary Johnson did when they were “the decider”. It’s much easier to judge the “deep” characteristics when you have a relevant record to inspect.

purplefox April 13, 2011 at 12:08 pm

“Fiscal Responsibility” is a great concept. Good luck on getting the American people (much less Congress) to agree on what to cut. Too many Americans think that the entitlements are untouchable and it’s going to be very hard to get any meaningful cuts until/unless the gov’t can’t print money.

Jeremey April 13, 2011 at 12:11 pm

As a resident of the State of Indiana since the time I was 8, having seen the end of the Bayh era in Indianapolis, then O’Bannon, then Kernan, and now Governor Daniels… I can say without a shadow of a doubt, that America can (AND HAS) done alot worse than the Governor of the Hoosier State… and as your guest on EconTalk (One George Will, BTW LOVE ECONTALK! WOO!) so eloquently introduced our good Governor at CPAC, he stands for “Conservatism for Grown Ups.” He’s cut our state workforce to the lowest number of state employess since the 1970s. By every measure almost every state government operation functions MORE efficiently. You can tell BMV jokes in every state but Indiana, because in Indiana you get in and out in an average of 9 minutes…We’ve built more roads, had more foreign direct investment, and created a disporpotionate number of jobs through the recession. And every state in the country would love to be in Indiana’s fiscal situation… balanced budgets every year for 5 consecutive years and oh yeah… that whole billion dollar rainy day fund…

Yes America… you can do so much worse than the short, balding, accounting nerd…

E.G. April 13, 2011 at 12:33 pm

He may run, but he’s not going to make it through the primaries. Knowing Republicans, they’ll vote in droves for some social conservative candidate, and they have a long list of awful awful candidates.

Of course he is the only candidate that makes sense, but excepting Republicans to be “grown up conservatives” may be asking too much.

indianajim April 13, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Mitch boldness is much overrated. In the recent standoff with Dems AWOL from the IN legislature, Mitch blinked. His political pragmatism is, in my view, particularly pissappointing.

E.G. April 13, 2011 at 1:39 pm

He gave a pretty good explanation of what happened with the Dems in IN on Uncommon Knowledge. Made sense to me, and didn’t seem to be a “blink”. Either way, of course he’s not “perfect”, but out the bunch the Republicans are presenting, he seems the most serious.

indianajim April 14, 2011 at 9:13 pm
Craig K April 13, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Curious what people think about Gary Johnson, former Governor of New Mexico. He seems like he would be an excellent president, not sure on the candidate part though (he wants to legalize drugs and stuff!!!).

Brad Warbiany April 13, 2011 at 4:07 pm

LOL… I should have hit refresh before I posted the exact same thing!

Brad Warbiany April 13, 2011 at 4:06 pm

I’d be interested to hear Russ & Don’s thoughts on Gary Johnson as well. He’s a proven government-cutter, but with a much stronger libertarian streak than Daniels or Christie. He’s like a young Ron Paul without all of Ron’s baggage. His libertarianism may disqualify him with many Republicans, or it might drag the party back to the libertarian/conservative alliance it had in the 80′s.

vikingvista April 13, 2011 at 4:13 pm

A better candidate is all you can hope for. A political campaign is about competing for the best rhetoric. You put on badges and bumper stickers of those who most say the things you like to hear.

But the actions of office holders are little different, and the future of government is more or less a predetermined conclusion. Enjoy the campaign, because the vote itself is pretty much worthless.

Ryan Vann April 13, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Eh, Gary Johnson or Paul would be my preferred GOP candidates, but Daniel’s would make a better fall back position than say a Romney.

John April 13, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Looks like Gary Johnson will be running, too, based on his recent twitter comments. When the field is so shallow that someone as asinine as The Donald can be considered the favorite for the Republican nomination, I think Gary has a shot.

Chucklehead April 13, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Daniels would make a better president than a candidate. Perhaps a great chief of staff for a empty suit president.Christe is a articulate pragmatist, not a Austrian believer. Ron Paul would be a great chairman of the fed. I hope Gary Johnson runs for senator from NM.
When is the Ron Paul Econtalk interview? Russ testified before his committee, turnabout should be fair play. I think Peter Robinson at Hoover is planning one.

Richard Stands April 13, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Why is it, do you suppose, that every election some candidates are immediately anointed the “front” runner by our friends in the media before anyone has “run” for anything? Sure, warm up Mitt Romney and trot him out there. They might not reject him again. And he’s the “front runner”.

Having been fairly involved in the last presidential election, I find myself a bit weary of the promise of great statesmen.

I’d refer to stay optimistic, but lately, I’m kind of in Viking’s camp. Democratic elections rarely change the nature of the system. They just let uniformed people vote for pretty faces and nice hair.

And of course, without a viable alternative, President Obama is virtually guaranteed a second term which hammers in the “Affordable Health Care for America Act” coffin nail. So actually, I think I’ll stop worrying about who is elected president, and start lobbying Justice Kennedy. Anyone know where to buy a nice fruit basket?

vikingvista April 13, 2011 at 11:38 pm

Even if a Republican gets in, ObamaCare is unlikely to be repealed. But if it is, as a result perhaps of the lawsuits, then you can expect atrocious follow-up Republican health care legislation to take us in the same general direction.

Chucklehead April 14, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Try the Deluxe All-Occasion Gift Basket for$99.95 at http://www.harryanddavid.com/gifts/store/item____shop-gifts-by-type_gift-baskets_4202#:s=best:p=1
I would also recommend you get him the fruit of the month club as a reminder.

tdp April 14, 2011 at 12:04 am

Daniels has been too acquiescent towards ObamaCare’s state mandates for my liking, and has gone further than the minimum in implementing the bill. The Bill will not stay because either SCOTUS will strike it down or there will be so many negative effects that there will be widespread call for repeal. After that, time to sic Sally Pipes and David Gratzer on the Dems and hope for the best. Ryan’s healthcare plan needs tweaking but looks promising.

Chucklehead April 14, 2011 at 1:04 am

No healthcare system will work unless consumers are made price sensitive enough to shop around. Why does innovation (new devices, drugs, and procedures) in heath care increase costs, where innovation in private markets decrease costs?

Chucklehead April 14, 2011 at 1:40 am

So what we need is a candidate who is articulate, knows his way around the halls of congress, understands economics as well as Hayek and Mises.Can you say President Roberts? With Ron Paul at the fed, Boudreaux at treasury, V D Hanson at Defens, Fouad Adjami at State, Veronique de Rugy at agriculture, Sowell at education,,, How about some suggestions folks?

Richard Stands April 14, 2011 at 9:49 am

As long as we’re daydreaming, I’d say: A federal government so bathtub-drowning small that it hardly matters who’s there.

Eric Hammer April 14, 2011 at 11:15 am

That would be awesome, especially since I could see those being the ONLY people in the exec. branch after a few months of Russ at the helm.

I don’t think “VD Hanson” is a good appellation for Victor though… sounds like a nickname for my old high school’s “functionally popular” girl ;) (He is pretty awesome though, easily my favorite historian, and great to hear lecture.)

purplefox April 14, 2011 at 11:27 pm

Are they the sort of people who would get the job, then disband the department, or at least drastically reduce its scope and budget? If so, sure, save us all some money.

Aidan April 14, 2011 at 11:25 am

You do remember that Daniels was OMB Director for the first three years of the Bush administration, right? There are a lot of things I associate with that period, but “fiscal responsibility” is not one of them.

Jeremey April 14, 2011 at 1:10 pm

In fairness he wasn’t the one making the decisions. President Bush was making the decisions. Being an OMB director is barely one step above being the head of the council of economic advisors, your opinion means slightly more than nothing as opposed to absolutly nothing. Personally I believe if you’re going to judge someone for executive office, and you can see what they have done in executive offices before, than that’s a pretty good standard. Look at his record as Governor of Indiana and its hard to complain… I love Indiana, I love living here, the only reason I ever considered leaving was to do Ph.D. work in Public Choice Theory at GMU (and boy if I ever win the lottery and can move my children and my wife to Virginia for a couple years…) and I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that the average Hoosier’s life is appreciably better off than it would have been had we not had Governor Daniels as our State’s executive leader.

And to the other commentor who mentioned Governor Daniels taking steps to implement the ACA, he also believes in following the law and being prepared. He has no way to anticipate how courts will rule on this, I’m sure he knows as well as we do that this will be decided on the Supreme Court, likely by Justice Kennedy (Good idea on the fruit baskets by the way), and until that it settled he has no choice but to prepare Indiana for what the law currently mandates him to do. To do otherwise would be shirking his responsibilities and that’s not who Governor Daniels is.

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