Social Conservative Mitch Daniels Calls For GOP “Truce” On Social Issues, Social Conservatives Revolt

In a rather lengthy interview with Andrew Ferguson in The Weekly Standard, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who has been mentioned as a dark horse contender for the 2012 Republican nomination, suggested that Republicans put aside their disagreements over social issues and concentrate on the fiscal issues that are at the core of current economic problems:

The next president, whoever he is, “would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues. We’re going to just have to agree to get along for a little while,” until the economic issues are resolved. Daniels is pro-life himself, and he gets high marks from conservative religious groups in his state. He serves as an elder at the Tabernacle Presbyterian Church, in inner-city Indianapolis, which he’s attended for 50 years. In 1998, with a few other couples from Tabernacle and a nearby Baptist congregation, he and his wife founded a “Christ-centered” school, The Oaks Academy, in a downtown neighborhood the local cops called “Dodge City.” It’s flourishing now with 315 mostly poor kids who pursue a classical education: Latin from third grade on, logic in middle school, rhetoric in eighth grade, an emphasis throughout on the treasures of Western Civilization. “It’s the most important thing I’ve ever been involved in,” he told me. His social-conservative credentials are solid.

But about that truce .  .  .

“He might be one guy who could get away with it,” said Curt Smith, head of the Indiana Family Institute, who’s known Daniels since the 1980s. “He has a deep faith, he’s totally pro-life, and he walks the talk. And in an acute situation, like the one we’re in now with the debt, he might get away with a truce for a year or two. But to be successful in office he’s going to have to show those folks he shares their vision.”

Daniels expanded on that statement in a later interview:

This morning, at the Heritage Foundation, I asked Daniels if that meant the next president shouldn’t push issues like stopping taxpayer funding of abortion in Obamacare or reinstating the Mexico City Policy banning federal funds to overseas groups that perform abortions. Daniels replied that we face a “genuine national emergency” regarding the budget and that “maybe these things could be set aside for a while. But this doesn’t mean anybody abandons their position at all. Everybody just stands down for a little while, while we try to save the republic.”

To clarify whether Daniels simply wants to de-emphasize these issues or actually not act on them, I asked if, as president, he would issue an executive order to reinstate Reagan’s “Mexico City Policy” his first week in office. (Obama revoked the policy during his first week in office.) Daniels replied, “I don’t know.”

Perhaps understandably, Daniels’ comments have not been well-received among social conservatives. Anti-abortion groups jumped on his refusal to equivocally state that he would reinstate the Mexico City Policy, which barred groups receiving U.S. foreign aid from either performing or discussing abortions with patients in foreign countries, and Mike Huckabee, the potential 2012 candidate most closely tied to social conservatives, panned Daniels statement:

Mike Huckabee on Friday trashed fellow Republican Mitch Daniels’s proposal that the party call a “truce” on social issues.

In a statement provided to POLITICO, the former Arkansas governor and 2008 presidential candidate scolded Daniels for looking at social issues as “bargaining chips” and “political.”

“The issue of life and traditional marriage are not bargaining chips nor are they political issues. They are moral issues,” Huckabee said in response to Daniels, the governor of Indiana. “I didn’t get involved in politics just to lower taxes and deficit spending, though I believe in both and have done it as a governor. But I want to stay true to the basic premises of our civilization.”


“For those of us who have labored long and hard in the fight to educate the Democrats, voters, the media and even some Republicans on the importance of strong families, traditional marriage and life to our society, this is absolutely heartbreaking. And that one of our Republican ‘leaders’ would suggest this truce, even more so,” said Huckabee, a social conservative who is weighing another presidential run.

I suppose this reaction was to be expected. After all, the wedge issues of abortion and gay marriage have proven very successful, and profitable for politicians like Huckabee in the past. It would be difficult to convince them to

Daniels statement, which I take to be heartfelt rather than some form of political gamesmanship, is one that makes absolute sense to me (of course, I am not a social conservative in any sense of the phrase). In fact, the truth of his statement can be seen in the Tea Party Movement and the successes that Republicans have enjoyed in the elections since the disastrous results of November 2008. In all of those elections, it was economic issues, and dissatisfaction with the economic policies of the Obama Administration that formed the core of the Republican message. Social issues, if they were mentioned at all, were mentioned in passing and certainly were nowhere near the top of the list of things that voters were concerned about. If the GOP succeeds in 2010, or in 2012, it will be because of the party’s adherence to an economic message, not because of it’s position on issues like abortion or gay marriage where there clearly isn’t any public agreement.

If Daniels does intend to run in 2012, it would be a welcome candidacy only if it means that he would provide an alternative to people like Mike Huckabee who wear their social conservatism on their sleeve, and don’t seem to understand that fixing a broken economy is far more important than promoting their religion.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Out of all the possible contenders in the 2012 election, Daniels is the only one to me that would be able to beat Obama. He would immediately take Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and make Florida very competitive.

    Alas, he won’t get past the primaries.

  2. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***and don’t seem to understand that fixing a broken economy is far more important than promoting their religion.***

    One could argue with certain and overwhelming evidence that everything that is broken in this country is the result a religion being promoted, and It sure ain’t Christianity!

    But lets pick on the people who understand that murdering a million sum+ babies every year is wrong and evil, that gay sex is a perversion and fatally harmful both to the participants and to the American family structure.

    Do you people that go to these fancy liberal schools ever take any classes on logic or reason?

    Or is it all abstract theory on how to justify and feel good and lie well?