Presidential Politics and Sleeping with the Fishes

Presidential Politics and Sleeping with the Fishes

Many of you, we’d guess, know who Mitch Daniels is. If you don’t, then we think he is best characterized by John Greenleaf Whittier’s most famous line, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’”

Among other things, Daniels was the president of the Hudson Institute, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget under George W. Bush, a wildly successful two-term governor of Indiana, and the current (but outgoing) president of Purdue University. Wikipedia sums up his governorship as follows:

He won the Republican primary with 67% of the vote and defeated Democratic incumbent Governor Joe Kernan in the general election. In 2008, Daniels was reelected to a second term, defeating Jill Long Thompson. During his tenure, Daniels cut the state government workforce by 18%, cut and capped state property taxes, balanced the state budget through austerity measures and increasing spending by less than the inflation rate. In his second term, Daniels saw protest by labor unions and Democrats in the state legislature over Indiana’s school voucher program, privatization of public highways, and the attempt to pass ‘right to work’ legislation, leading to the 2011 Indiana legislative walkouts. During the legislature’s last session under Daniels, he signed a ‘right-to-work law’, with Indiana becoming the 23rd state in the nation to pass such legislation.

Given all of this, it is hardly surprising that many observers assumed that Daniels would run for president in 2012. But he didn’t. And when he didn’t, many assumed that he would be on the Romney campaign’s short-list for running mates. But he wasn’t.

Despite his inarguable qualifications, his clear success as a political executive, his indisputable conservative credentials, and his staid, agreeable temperament, mitch Daniels never sought higher office. By all indications, he never even thought seriously about it. And the reason he never thought about it was because of people like Lesley Abravanel.

Lesley Abravanel is a professional internet troll. She describes herself as a “scribe,” but she’s really just someone who hates Ron DeSantis. She spends her days trying to drum up interest in conspiracy theories about the Florida Governor, his dead sister, and especially his wife. She loathes DeSantis so much that she will use any avenue she can to try to hurt him, to intimidate him, to wreck his presidential hopes.

This is important because, in many ways, Abravanel is a stalking horse for the national media, who also hate Governor DeSantis and will also use any avenue they can to try to hurt him, to intimidate him, to wreck his presidential hopes. To the mainstream media, DeSantis is the same as Trump, only even MORE dangerous, in that he’s smart and competent. They loathe him almost as much as they fear him.

Last week, the Orlando Sentinel ran a long profile piece on the Governor’s wife, Casey. It was a very fair, rather flattering portrayal of Mrs. DeSantis. But it was just the first of many more to come. And the rest of them are not likely to be nearly as kind.

Do you remember when the media dinged Ann Romney for owning expensive dressage horses – as people who are worth almost a quarter-billion dollars sometimes do? Remember how they knocked her for riding those horses, even though she has MS and equine therapy is widely recognized as effective palliative care for her condition? It was as fabricated a scandal as ever existed – not that anyone in the media ever apologized or retracted their smears.

Well, guess who rode horses as a teenager and then competed for the College of Charleston’s equestrian team? Guess who is likely to be portrayed as the spoiled, little rich girl who got the pony that all the other girls wanted but weren’t privileged enough to get? If you guessed Casey (Black) DeSantis, give yourself a gold star! And then imagine the hOrRoR!

Since at least 1996, we have been openly and unashamedly supportive of negative political campaigning. If your opponent’s character is questionable, then there is nothing wrong with pointing that out. Indeed, it’s important that you do so. The voters have a right to know.

That said, attacking wives for mundane matters, digging up dirt on spouses’ families, or dredging up the circumstances surrounding the death of a sibling are all at least one step beyond what should be acceptable in our politics. These are, in fact, examples of how completely and remorselessly obsessive Americans have become about politics.

The Left and the media think that anything and anyone is fair game because Republicans attacked Hillary Clinton. Well, when Casey DeSantis or Ann Romney or Cheri Herman Daniels proclaims herself a “co-president,” has herself included in national security briefings and cabinet meetings, or chairs a task force on health care reform policy, then she’ll be fair game. Until then, the comparison is as spurious as it is offensive.

And what’s that you say about Cheri Herman Daniels? What’s her story? Well, she and Mitch were married in 1978. And they were married again in 1997. In 1993, they were divorced. Cheri married another man, and she and her new husband moved to California. She left the second spouse three years later, returned to Mitch, and that was that. Mitch and Cheri have now been married for 40 years total, 25 years since the second wedding.

As the screenshot above shows, the Daniels’ marriage is still a pretty popular web search topic. Back in 2011, when people began to speculate about a possible run for the presidency, the mainstream and (openly) left-leaning media went nuts with the Daniels marriage story. Mitch and Cheri were the subjects of dozens, if not hundreds, of columns, profiles, and other media attacks. Because Mitch had custody of their two daughters during their non-married years, Cheri was accused, repeatedly, in print of “abandonment,” even though the charge was baseless. She was attacked and pilloried. His judgment was questioned. And the two were subjected to endless scrutiny for something that they, themselves, had gotten over and had long put behind them.

After all, all is fair in love and war, and war is, as Clausewitz noted, just politics with the addition of other means, right? Moreover, Daniels had the potential to unseat Barack Obama, and the media couldn’t let that happen, could they? It had to be done. Cheri had to be destroyed or, at least, convincingly threatened with destruction.

We don’t generally believe in politicians as saviors. Indeed, we generally think of them as the opposite. Nevertheless, Mitch Daniels is a good man and probably would have been a good president. And if he had won in 2012 and then won reelection in 2016, he might have spared us all some turmoil and upheaval, if you know what we mean.

In the end, though, he was driven out of politics by the thought of the media continuing its full-throated attacks, not on him, but on his wife, a woman he loves enough to have married twice.

More to the point, of course, Mitch Daniels was the Luca Brasi of American politics, a warning sent to all Republicans that they should be careful and sensible and should always remember that their rivals are ruthless.

Mitch may not sleep with the fishes, exactly, but the point was made, nonetheless.

And it will be made again, if necessary.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
[email protected]

Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.