What Comes Next For Mitch Daniels?

Mitch Daniels in a graduation cap

Mitch Daniels in a graduation capExecutive Summary. “President Mitch Daniels” was a title no small portion of establishment Republicans imagined for the former Indiana governor in 2011. It just so happened they expected him to be working from the West Wing—not Westwood, the 1932 English Tudor where the president of Purdue University traditionally lives. In the decade that passed at Purdue, Daniels—nicknamed “the Blade” by George W. Bush while serving as his budget director—famously froze tuition every academic year, set fundraising records, and oversaw a massive expansion on the main campus at West Lafayette.

Power Player. Daniels’s announced departure shocked the campus. Adored by many students but sometimes criticized by the faculty, Daniels revealed in June that Mung Chiang, who currently serves as dean of engineering and executive vice president for strategic initiatives, would succeed him after an internal search process and no public or faculty input.

Golden Rule. Daniels governed Purdue like a candidate running for office. While campaigning for governor, Daniels filmed a reality show that showed him doing folksy things and sleeping in people’s guest bedrooms across the state. As president, he took a similar tack: He mingled with students, worked out in the campus recreation and wellness center, and rode the school’s “couch cart”—literally a motorized sofa—into Ross-Ade Stadium for the campus’s 2021 graduation.

Mitch waving out the window of an RV
Before he left the governor’s mansion in January 2013, Daniels made one of his famous RV tours of the state. The “Daniels Decade” at Purdue featured a tuition freeze, surprise hangouts with students, and VIP visits.

He’s Running. Maybe. Almost the minute Daniels announced his retirement, speculation about what he would do next began. Allies such as former Angie’s List CEO, Daniels’s campaign manager Bill Oesterle, and close personal adviser Mark Lubbers floated his political return. Cheri Daniels, who urged her husband not to mount a 2012 presidential run, is said to have warmed to the idea of a political comeback.

Watch the Ball. If he doesn’t reconsider politics, Daniels could find a home in sports. At Purdue, he wrote a secret letter to keep football coach Jeff Brohm from leaving for Louisville. He advocated for banning “IU sucks” chants and argued that the Old Oaken Bucket game should be moved to Lucas Oil Stadium. A Dodgers fan—he picked them as his team when he was 5 for no apparent reason—Daniels has been bandied about as a future commissioner of Major League Baseball. Bush, the former owner of the Texas Rangers and connected to the league, once broached the idea with him, but nothing came of it at the time. Daniels has also been mentioned as the head of the NCAA when Mark Emmert steps down next year, following in the footsteps of Myles Brand, who went to the NCAA after leaving the presidency of Indiana University. “Whoever takes that job, and I’m not sure anyone could deliver this, should say, ‘I’ve got to have the following authority that doesn’t exist today and never has,’” Daniels told Howey Politics Indiana. “‘I’ve got to have this broad remit here.’ Otherwise, I don’t think anyone could.”

Mayor Mitch? Among the next acts mentioned by Daniels’s allies: mayor of Indianapolis. Daniels, who owns a home in Carmel, would have to establish residency one year before he would take office. In the same way, he saw helming Purdue as an opportunity to reform the troubled American research university as an institution, Lubbers says he thinks Daniels could turn around the American city. It would also provide a storybook ending to Daniels’s career—he began government service as an intern and administrative assistant to then-Mayor Richard Lugar in 1971. His Princeton University thesis? It was titled “The Politics of Metropolitanization: City-County Consolidation in Indianapolis, Indiana.”