Political observers have been trying to figure out whether Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels wants to run for president. It may be months or longer before this question is answered. In the meantime, it’s just as important to figure out whether he is up to the task.
On economic issues, Daniels seems like the perfect candidate. He is a successful GOP governor who has made fiscal sanity his personal crusade. But like it or not, foreign policy will always be a president’s main responsibility. And on that score, Daniels has been something of a blank slate.
Thus the news that Daniels is accepting an award from the Arab American Institute (AAI) is more than a little curious. The AAI is a left-leaning organization founded by onetime Democratic Party activist James Zogby. Although it is far more respectable than terrorist front groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), it has also been among the most consistent voices downplaying the threat from Islamist terror and opposing American efforts to fight back against Islamist enemies of freedom. And needless to say, like Zogby, it is no friend to the State of Israel.
Daniels’s acceptance of this award has caused lefty bloggers to crow that it will doom his prospective candidacy. At TPM, Benjy Sarlin points out that Daniels is being singled out at time when “some GOP presidential contenders ratchet up their anti-Muslim rhetoric to toxic levels. . . .” His proposed “truce” on divisive social issues appealed to the AAI, which compared Daniels favorably to Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. Besides, the group was impressed by the heretofore little known fact that the governor is the grandson of Syrian immigrants. Bigots on the right will never stand for that, Alex Pareene suggests at Salon. “[D]oes anyone think they’d support a candidate who is actually Arab?” he chortles.
But these insinuations are beside the point. Nobody, especially not neoconservatives who have been loudly championing the cause of freedom in the Arab world, has anything against Daniels’s heritage. Nor, despite the fervent efforts of some to promote the myth that there has been a post 9-11 backlash against Muslims in this country, do many other Americans care about his origins. What voters do have a right to ask is whether the governor shares the foreign policy views of the group that is honoring him.
The AAI is a group that is hostile to Israel as well as to efforts to fight Islamism. Representative Nick Rahall, Democrat of West Virginia and one of the most virulent opponents of Israel in Congress, is a previous winner of the award. Moreover, in a statement posted on the group’s website, spokesman Omar Tewfik, compared Daniels to other potential GOP candidates:
Gov. Daniels piques our interest not only because he is Arab American. . . . He has insisted that other issues not become a distraction and has not pandered to the anti-Muslim, anti-Arab sentiments expressed by many other potential GOP presidential candidates.
You don’t need a translator to understand this statement. The AAI hopes that Daniels is someone who will be less zealous in opposing Arab extremism and in supporting Israel. Perhaps the group is unaware that Daniels is outspoken in his defense of the Jewish State, as he emphasized in accepting the Anti-Defamation’s League “Man of Achievement Award” in November 2009. But since the governor hasn’t yet sought to distance himself from the AAI or the notion that his fellow Republicans are all anti-Arab bigots, he leaves the impression that Omar Tewfik might actually be right about him.
The bottom line here isn’t prejudice but policy. If Mitch Daniels thinks he can be elected president while letting left-wing Arab propagandists like Zogby and his crew define his views, he’s kidding himself. What Zogby and other Israel-bashers always forget is that support for the Jewish state is wide and deep. Candidates that place themselves outside this broad consensus haven’t a prayer.
If Daniels is going to run, he needs to clarify his views on America’s place in the world and, yes, its alliance with the State of Israel. But if they turn out to be more in line with those of Zogby, Tewfik, and the wags at Salon and TPM than with his fellow Republicans, then he’d be better off staying in Indianapolis.