The Mitch Daniels Political Era Has Officially Passed

Perhaps it was poll after poll showing congressional approval hovering around 18%. Or that he never had that horde mentality; Mitch Daniels has been for the past three decades the leader of the pack. Or, perhaps, it was the Cooperstown busts of two native Hoosiers – Major League Baseball commissioners Kenesaw Mountain Landis and Ford Frick – and the fact that the job could come open next summer, that might have held sway.

When it came to a decision, Mitch Daniels determined that spending the next eight years campaigning and serving in dysfunctional Washington, D.C., with Donald Trump-inspired loony bin senators in stasis congressional gridlock was the ultimate deal breaker.

Thus on Tuesday, the former two-term Indiana governor and Purdue University president and, arguably, the most cunning and influential Hoosier Republican of the 21st Century, slammed the door on a political comeback. “I’ve decided not to become a candidate for the U.S. Senate. With full credit and respect for the institution and those serving in it, I conclude that it’s just not the job for me, not the town for me,” Daniels said.

The decision capped off a two-month exercise of whether Daniels would seek a Senate seat that he had once turned down, when Gov. Robert Orr offered him Vice President-elect Dan Quayle’s seat in 1988.

After spending a day in DC last week, he seemed uncertain, telling Politico, “I’m not the least bit worried, honestly, about losing an election. I’m worried about winning it and regretting it for six years. I say this with great respect for those who do it. But you know, that doesn’t mean it fits me or fits me at this time of my life. So that’s what this field trip’s about.”

“My one tour of duty in elected office involved, like those in business before and academe after it, an action job, with at least the chance to do useful things every day,” Daniels said. “I have never imagined that I would be well-suited to legislative office, particularly where seniority remains a significant factor in one’s effectiveness, and I saw nothing in my recent explorations that altered that view.”

At this writing, U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, is the sole candidate to announce for the Senate seat being vacated by Mike Braun, who is running for governor. “As I’ve said before, I respect Gov. Daniels and I learned a lot from him when I served in the Statehouse,” Banks said in a statement Tuesday morning before meeting with former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “I’m excited about the early momentum and support for our campaign but we’ve got a long way to go. Over the next two years, I’m going to work hard every day to make my case to Hoosier voters that I’m best prepared to be their conservative Senator in Washington.”

U.S. Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Noblesville, had expressed interest before Daniels explored a bid, and might do so again. Informed and reliable sources close to Attorney General Todd Rokita tell Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs that he likes his current job and will likely seek reelection in 2024.

In addition to Spartz, the other potential factor in the race is Gov. Eric Holcomb, who said in December that he has not ruled out a Senate bid, but such a determination would not come until the Indiana General Assembly sine die expected in late April.

Holcomb was a Senate candidate in 2016, facing then-U.S. Reps. Todd Young and Marlin Stutzman, when Gov. Mike Pence selected him to finish the term of Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, who resigned to become president of Ivy Tech. Holcomb went on to win a gubernatorial caucus by the Indiana Republican Central Committee when Donald Trump chose Pence to be his vice president nominee.

Asked about a potential Senate candidacy in mid-December, Holcomb responded, saying, “We’ll see.”

“I’ve been involved in some campaigns that have been 16 months, and I thought that was early. And then I’ve been involved in some that took about 106 days, and I thought that was rushed,” Holcomb said. “I’m going to do the job I’ve got. That’s somewhat liberating. I’m very comfortable with that.”

On the day that Daniels announced his decision, Donald Trump endorsed Rep. Banks. “Jim Banks is running for the United States Senate from the Great State of Indiana. I know Jim well, have seen him tested at the highest and most difficult levels, and WIN!” Trump wrote on Truth Social. “Jim Banks is respected by all, will never let you down, and has my Complete & Total Endorsement!”

This is the same Donald Trump who had dinner last December with an anti-Semite neo-Nazi, suggested the U.S. Constitution be “terminated” to let him back into the office he lost by seven million votes in 2020, and called Russian President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine a fit of “savvy genius.”

In his statement, Daniels said, “I’ve likewise tried to keep in mind President Reagan’s observation that some people seek public office to be something, others to do something.”

Rep. Banks will run in the Trump lane, but there are a number of Daniels type Republicans in Indiana who will be searching for a non-Trump alternative.

The columnist is managing editor of Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs at Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.