The Reporter (Lansdale, PA)
Attacks on Mitch Daniels a GOP alarm bell for 2024
Here we go again. In 2022, Republicans blew an 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 of Florida, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire) and Brian Kemp of Georgia trounced their Democratic opponents, MAGA Senate candidates including Herschel Walker (Georgia), Mehmet Oz (Pennsylvania), Don Bolduc (New Hampshire) and Blake Masters (Arizona) lost winnable races. Voters’ message could not have been clearer.
So, Republicans learned their lesson, right? Apparently not.
When former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels announced he was exploring a 2024 bid to succeed Sen. Mike Braun, 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 healthcare 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. 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 Trump loyalist Rep. Jim Banks 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 of Arizona and Sununu — who both declined Senate runs in 2022 rather than face a barrage of MAGA hate — Daniels decided that life is too short to spend the next two years fending off attacks and distortions of his record from the right.
If Ducey and Sununu had been their state’s Senate nominees in 2022, the GOP would probably hold the majority today. Indiana is probably red enough that Banks can win. But the anti-Daniels campaign should set off early warning signals: MAGA world is not chastened by its failures in 2022. And if they are allowed to drive candidates like Daniels out of races across the country, the GOP will jeopardize its chance to take back the Senate in a year when it’s there for the taking.
In Arizona, two 2022 losers, Masters and Trump-backed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, are reportedly considering Senate runs. In Montana, Rep. Matthew M. Rosendale — one of the last holdouts opposing Rep. Kevin McCarthy for House speaker — is reportedly considering challenging Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat to whom Rosendale lost in 2018.
In West Virginia, Trump loyalist Rep. Alex Mooney has declared he will challenge Sen. Joe Manchin III. Republican leaders are working to recruit Gov. Jim Justice. A poll shows Mooney losing to Manchin 55-40, but Justice defeating him 52-42.
The new chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Sen. Steve Daines, has pledged to get involved in contested primaries to make sure the party has candidates who can win general elections.
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.