Mitch Daniels For President?

I’m not ready to say I want Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels to become the next president. But I am certainly impressed with his list of five favorite books, which includes three authors who also made my list of books that influenced me the most [HT: Mike Rappaport].

Citing Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose and Hayek’s Road to Serfdom is something one might expect from many Republican politicians these days, including some who have never actually read either. But Daniels’ references to Mancur Olson’s Rise and Decline of Nations and Virginia Postrel’s The Future and Its Enemies show that his interest in libertarianism and political economy is genuine and serious.

I’m also pleased with his statement that he tries to be a libertarian governor and describes himself as a libertarian. In the interview linked above, he even endorses some of the key ideas of F.A. Hayek’s “Why I am not a Conservative” (though without disclaiming the term “conservative” as such).

As a member in good standing of the Republican party establishment, Daniels would have a better chance of winning the nomination than Ron Paul did in 2008. Interestingly, he may simultaneously be more libertarian than Paul, who held distinctly unlibertarian positions on many issues, including free trade agreements, school vouchers, the application of the Bill of Rights to governments, and especially immigration. Daniels seems more libertarian than Paul on all these issues. Some anti-immigration conservatives have even pilloried Daniels for being soft on the issue.

Daniels’ libertarian-leaning wonkery also looks good compared with Sarah Palin’s ignorance and Mike Huckabee’s big government social conservatism, to name two other prominent potential Republican candidates for 2012. Of course comparisons with Palin and Huckabee could be seen as damning Daniels with faint praise.

Despite his statements about libertarianism in the interview, I have little doubt that Daniels is more conservative and less libertarian than I would prefer. In addition, it’s important to remember that much of what politicians say and do is determined by political constraints, a fact that makes it considerably harder to assess their merits than many people think. If he ever becomes president, political considerations would prevent Daniels from pursuing a fully libertarian agenda even if he wanted to do so, just as they have prevented Barack Obama from doing everything that his most committed left-wing supporters hoped for.

That said, I think there’s a possibility that Daniels might turn out to be a genuinely libertarian-leaning candidate for president with a real chance of winning. He also seems to be knowledgeable about economics and public policy. Candidates like that don’t come along every day or even every election cycle.