Springfield News-Sun

MAGA world’s attack on Daniels an early GOP alarm bell for 2024

- Marc A. Thiessen Marc A. Thiessen is an author, political appointee, and weekly columnist for The Washington Post.

Here we go again. In 2022, Republican­s blew a historic opportunit­y to take back the Senate because, in state after state, they nominated extreme candidates whose only qualificat­ion was fealty to former president Donald Trump.

While positive, forward-looking conservati­ve reformers such as Govs. Ron Desantis (Fla.), Mike Dewine (Ohio), Chris Sununu (N.H.) and Brian Kemp (Ga.) trounced their Democratic opponents, MAGA Senate candidates including Herschel Walker (Ga.), Mehmet Oz (Pa.), Don Bolduc (N.H.) and Blake Masters (Ariz.) lost winnable races. Voters’ message could not have been clearer.

So, Republican­s learned their lesson, right? Apparently not.

When former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels (R) announced he was exploring a 2024 bid to succeed Sen. Mike Braun (R), who is running for governor, Republican­s should have been elated. Daniels was a whirlwind of reform in the governor’s mansion. He ended collective bargaining for state employees, privatized Indiana’s toll road, establishe­d one of the country’s largest school choice program for low-income students and created a conservati­ve alternativ­e to Medicaid that gave citizens more control over their health-care choices. He inherited a $700 million deficit but left the state with a $2 billion budget surplus — achieved while he implemente­d the biggest tax cut in Indiana history. Then, as president of Purdue University, he earned a reputation as the United States’ most innovative college president. Daniels rejected vaccine mandates and Covid lockdowns, replaced fulltime dining hall employees with student workers, scrapped the vast fleet of university-owned buses in favor of a private contractor and froze tuition for 10 years.

In other words, Daniels is exactly the kind of bold, thoughtful conservati­ve reformer voters flocked to in 2022. And he was well positioned to win the GOP nomination. A December poll showed him leading Rep. Jim Banks — a Trump loyalist who voted against certifying Joe Biden’s election — by 22 points.

Then came the RINO hunters. The Club for Growth released an ad excoriatin­g Daniels as a tax-and-spend “old-guard Republican clinging to the old ways of the bad old days.” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted “The establishm­ent is trying to recruit weak RINO Mitch Daniels” to run for Senate, adding that “he would be Mitt Romney 2.0.”

It worked. Like Republican Govs. Doug Ducey (Ariz.) and Sununu, who both declined Senate runs in 2022 rather than face a barrage of MAGA hate, Daniels decided life is too short to spend the next two years fending off attacks and distortion­s of his record from the right. He opted not to run.

If Ducey and Sununu had been their state’s Senate nominees in 2022, instead of Masters and Bolduc, the GOP would probably hold the majority today. Indiana is probably red enough that Banks can win — much as J.D. Vance won in Ohio by six points, despite running on the same ballot as Dewine, who won by 25.

But the anti-daniels campaign should set off early warning signals: MAGA world is not chastened by its disastrous failures in 2022. And if they are allowed to drive candidates like Daniels out of races across the country, the GOP will jeopardize its best chance in a generation to take back the Senate.

In 2024, Democrats will be defending 23 seats, including three in Trump-won states (Montana, Ohio and West Virginia) and five (Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvan­ia, Wisconsin) that Biden won by five points or less. Meanwhile, Republican­s will be defending 10 seats, none of which are in Biden-won states and one (Florida) in a state where Desantis won reelection by nearly 20 points last year. The Senate is the GOP’S for the taking in 2024 — provided Republican­s learn from their 2022 mistakes.

In Arizona, two 2022 losers, Masters and Trumpbacke­d gubernator­ial candidate Kari Lake, are reportedly considerin­g Senate runs. In Montana, Rep. Matthew M. Rosendale — one of the last holdouts opposing Rep. Kevin Mccarthy (R-calif.) for House speaker — is reportedly considerin­g challengin­g Sen. Jon Tester (D-mont.), to whom Rosendale lost in 2018.

In Michigan, former congressma­n Peter Meijer would be a strong Senate candidate — but he was targeted by Trump in last year’s GOP primary after voting to impeach. Meijer lost the nomination to Trump-backed John Gibbs, who went on to lose a perfectly winnable GOP House seat. It’s doubtful Trump would let bygones be bygones.

In West Virginia, Trump loyalist Rep. Alex Mooney, who voted against certifying the 2020 election results, has declared he will challenge Sen. Joe Manchin III (D). Republican leaders are working to recruit Gov. Jim Justice (R). A poll commission­ed by the Sen. Mitch Mcconnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund shows Mooney losing to Manchin 55-40, while predicts Justice defeating him 52-42.

As 2022 showed, losing just a couple of winnable races is all it takes to cost Republican­s the Senate majority. The GOP needs candidates who can win general elections — candidates such as Mitch Daniels.

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