Mitch Daniels decided against a 2024 Indiana Senate bid, ending the possibility of a high-stakes Republican primary between the popular former governor and Trump-world, which has aligned behind Rep. Jim Banks.
Daniels said in a statement he decided “it’s just not the job for me, not the town for me, and not the life I want to live at this point.”
Daniels, 73, recently retired as Purdue University president and was considering a run for the seat Sen. Mike Braun is leaving to run for governor in 2024. Last week, he visited Washington, meeting with several senators as he weighed a return to politics.
He said he considered a run “on an explicitly one-term basis,” and wanted to do so “in a way that might soften the harshness and personal vitriol that has infected our public square, rendering it not only repulsive to millions of Americans, but also less capable of effective action to meet our threats and seize our opportunities.”
“Maybe I can find ways to contribute that do not involve holding elective office. If not, there is so much more to life,” Daniels said in the statement. “People obsessed with politics or driven by personal ambition sometimes have difficulty understanding those who are neither. I hope to be understood as a citizen and patriot who thought seriously, but not tediously, about how to be deserving of those labels and simply decided the U.S. Senate was not the only way.”
Banks, a Trump-aligned conservative from northeastern Indiana, has already entered the Senate 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’ allies had begun preparing for a primary showdown with Banks. One person close to Daniels described the potential race as one that would pit conservatives focused on winning elections and achieving policy goals against Trump-style “grifters” who are “making a fortune in the business of howling a the moon” and setting Republicans back in the process.
Daniels, though, said he could not shake the sense that he was poorly suited for a legislative role.
“My one tour of duty in elected office involved, like those in business before and academe after it, an action job, with at least the chance to do useful things every day,” Daniels said. “I have never imagined that I would be well-suited to legislative office, particularly where seniority remains a significant factor in one’s effectiveness, and I saw nothing in my recent explorations that altered that view.”
His decision means less turmoil for Republicans in a deep-red state. Montana Sen. Steve Daines, the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, said the party’s Senate campaign arm will back Banks for the seat.
“I have the utmost respect for the years of service Governor Daniels has given to Indiana and wish him well in the future. I’m looking forward to working with one of our top recruits this cycle, Jim Banks, to keep Indiana red in 2024,” he said in a statement.
Daniels began his political career as a staffer for former Sen. Richard Lugar – first as Indianapolis mayor, then as senator. He was Lugar’s chief of staff in Washington in the 1970s and 1980s, led Lugar’s political operation and was the executive director of the NRSC in the 1984 election cycle.
He left Washington and became a top executive at Eli Lilly and Co., based in Indianapolis, but returned to politics in the early 2000s, becoming former President George W. Bush’s Office of Management and Budget director.
He was elected governor in 2004 and 2008, and 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.