Yesterday I posted a clip of a speech by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) in which he argued that “wedge issues” should be “foreign” to the Republican Party. As I suspected, this perspective sounded alarm bells in conservative quarters.
Gary Bauer, perhaps the most prominent Christian conservative activist, e-mailed me: “I think values voters and the entire conservative base of the GOP will have serious questions about whether the governor understands what it will take to get 50.1 percent against the Obama political machine. Obama uses wedge issues regularly. Our eventual nominee must not engage in unilateral surrender.”
A Republican adviser put it this way to me this morning: “While Daniels may be popular in Washington, this clip speaks volumes to what may be his lack of appeal on the campaign trail.” Another told me: “Early candidates often make the mistake of talking process or tactics instead of issues and values. If he is trying to play to the middle, he should just do it rather than telegraph his intentions. Instead of alienating the middle, he’s alienating the right by signaling that some of their issues aren’t valid.”
The problem with the line and the sentiment is that everything Democrats don’t like is a wedge issue — abortion, Medicare, gun rights, judges, a forward-leaning foreign policy. So is Daniels willing to throw that agenda and the activists who go with those issues under the bus?
The fiscal train wreck is almost certainly the top issue on Republican primary voters’ minds. However, that doesn’t mean they forget about the rest of their agenda. In one form or another (“wedge issues,” a “social truce”), Daniels seems bent on aggravating those who don’t share his tunnel vision. Interestingly, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) once remarked, “All of life is a negotiation.” His philosophy is that you win by convincing the other guy you are more serious than he. Daniels, if he decides to run, should consider that approach — and hope voters aren’t paying attention to what he is saying now.