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Michael Gerson: Mitch Daniels, the one who got away

BY MICHAEL GERSON Published: January 19, 2013

Daniels' parting observations on the state of the Republican Party are broadly consistent with a rising generation of conservative reformers. On immigration, the GOP needs an approach “that embraces those who are here, not castigates them.” He remains an advocate for a “truce” on social issues — “leaving aside some irreconcilable debates to focus on a few priorities, such as the fiscal crisis” — and notes that most Republicans have implicitly adopted this approach already. And he believes Republicans should be speaking more directly to “people seeking to rise. To young people. To poor people. I never went to a GOP dinner without saying: ‘We should be proud of the success of people in this room. But we really need to do something for people who would like to come to dinners like this someday.'”

Daniels is just the sort of leader most needed in a Republican revival: an upbeat, tolerant, conviction politician. And the most compelling GOP critic of the red menace. “I stubbornly adhere to the view,” he told me, “that Americans can be talked to like adults about the deficit problem. They can be told the pure arithmetical facts of life — the injustice that current policies are doing to the poor, the young and minorities.”

But Daniels seems resigned that political arguments are no longer his to make.

Returning quietly to private life after public service is honorable and admirable. But this doesn't change one fact. The best Democratic politician in America is about to take his oath as president of the United States. The best Republican politician will soon be president of Purdue.