Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is likely to decide within the next two weeks whether he will run for Senate, a person close to Daniels said – a campaign that would position the state’s 2024 GOP primary as a test of the lasting influence of Trumpism in a deep-red state.
Rep. Jim Banks, a Donald Trump-aligned conservative from northeastern Indiana, has already entered the race. And the Club for Growth launched a preemptive ad attacking the 73-year-old Daniels, labeling him an “old guard Republican” who is “all out of fight.”
Daniels, from his home in Naples, Florida, spoke on the phone with Banks less than two weeks ago. He did not dissuade Banks from running for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Mike Braun, a Republican who is instead running for governor – which Banks has touted in phone calls since then, two people familiar with their conversation said.
The person close to Daniels said the primary would pit Daniels-style conservatives focused on winning elections and achieving policy goals against Trump-style “grifters” who are “making a fortune in the business of howling at the moon” and setting Republicans back in the process.
“What they’ve created is a situation in which Mitch Daniels is going to be orders of magnitude more powerful and influential coming into the United States Senate than if they just left him alone,” the person said. “We had no intention of running a campaign against Donald Trump or the MAGA world, but they’ve launched this attack now and none of us are shrinking violets and this is not our first rodeo. If they want a fist fight, let’s go.”
The person said the former governor and Purdue University president is likely to make a decision soon in part because he doesn’t want to leave Indiana Republicans who are loyal to him waiting with attacks already underway.
Daniels has been considering a Senate run for several months, the person said. He spoke by phone last fall with former Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, who left the Senate for a role in academia, taking over as president of the University of Florida – the reverse of the move Daniels, who recently departed Purdue, is considering.
Daniels is set to visit Washington in the coming days for meetings with several Republican senators, the person said.
Daniels, a former President George W. Bush Office of Management and Budget director and top Eli Lilly and Co. executive who was elected governor in 2004 and 2008, was the dominant figure in Indiana politics at that time – presiding over a rapid period of Republican government and education reforms, budget cuts and curtailing of labor union power.
He was widely seen as a potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate, but opted against running, citing family concerns.
Instead, as Daniels left office, he was appointed president of Purdue University – a position he held for 10 years before leaving at the end of last year. During that time, he largely avoided commenting on political issues.
Still, Daniels cast a long shadow over Indiana politics. Former Vice President Mike Pence, who was elected Indiana governor after Daniels and took a much more cautious approach to the office, struggled to gain the sort of influence Daniels had held, until Pence was tapped as Trump’s running mate in 2016. Indiana’s current governor, Republican Eric Holcomb, was Daniels’ political right-hand man during his governorship.
The attacks by the Club for Growth are in some ways unsurprising: The organization’s president, former Rep. David McIntosh, was among the Republicans pushed out of the 2004 Indiana governor’s race when Daniels launched his campaign with then-President Bush’s backing.