“Honestly, I don’t care in the least about losing an election. I’m worried about winning it and regretting it for six years,” Daniels said Wednesday after meeting with Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.). “I say this with a lot of respect for those who do it. But you know, that doesn’t mean that it looks good on me or that I fit in at this point in my life. So that’s what this tour is about.»
His decision will reverberate throughout the Republican Party, from the towns and cities of Indiana to Mar-a-Lago. Donald Trump Jr. has already attacked the more centrist Daniels, and the former governor’s leap into the Senate race will only draw more criticism from the right. His advisers have framed a potential showdown with Banks as a battle for the soul of the Republican Party.
Retired Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), who is running for governor, said it is prudent for Daniels to think carefully before making the leap.
“He’s a leader, a mover and a shaker and he has DC experience,” Braun said of the 73-year-old Daniels. «Anyone at that stage of the game, even if he feels good, he would make sure he wanted to make a six-year commitment.»
In practice, Daniels dismisses Washington as a possible residence or place to spend time, a factor that will weigh heavily in his calculation. Privately, her closest advisers say they don’t know where she will land, but expect her to make a decision this weekend.
Meanwhile, they scramble to lay the groundwork for a possible campaign should he testify, even going so far as to make decisions about potential personnel. Daniels is an expert on Senate races: He once led the Senate Republicans campaign arm.
«Mitch doesn’t need to do this,» said Bill Oesterle, his first campaign manager and a close ally who has been in contact with Daniels in recent days. “He is interested in it only to the extent that he can achieve something. He is, as always, doing his homework.»
Daniels is facing attacks from the wealthy Club for Growth, which is trying to keep him out of the Banks race. Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have also endorsed Banks. When asked if he had spoken with Banks, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Wednesday that he is watching the race.
But Daniels still commands respect, even among those who support Banks.
“I don’t tell anyone that they can or should not apply. And Mitch has a successful career of his own,” Rubio said, adding that Banks “has been forceful about new-direction, new-agenda Republicanism, which I believe is critical to the future of our party. And I want to see more people like him here.»
Daniels’ advisers expect him to have more than $50 million on the first day of his campaign. He said Wednesday that he is not worried about political support: “That takes care of itself, and we are drowning in offers of help and money. I’ll say it again, I’m not worried about the election, I’m worried about winning it and deciding it was a mistake.»
Since Daniels is not yet in the race and may ultimately turn down an offer, Senate Republicans are not yet rushing to officially endorse him. But there are plenty of warm feelings for him at the Senate Republican conference.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said he plans to meet with Banks soon, but said of Daniels: «I’m a huge fan.» Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said: “Mitch would be great; I don’t know the other person at all.» And while Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) isn’t taking sides, he said Daniels could do a lot as a first-term senator: «It’s great to be in the Senate.»
“Whether he runs for president or for the Senate, it would be good for the country,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (RS.D.), a former governor.
A Banks-Daniels race would amount to a big fight over the direction of the GOP in the Senate, particularly since the Republican nominee will be heavily favored to win the seat vacated by Braun. Daniels is a former White House budget director who called for a «truce» in the culture wars in 2010, while Banks is a belligerently conservative on social issues and a leading voice on the House’s right flank.
Daniels was also scheduled to meet with Republican National Senatorial Committee Chairman Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Tim Scott (RS.C.) during his visit. Daines has also spoken with Banks.
The former governor said he will make an announcement soon rather than drag out the drama.
“I don’t like to keep people waiting. I don’t like wasting time, so you’ll literally know something in no time at all,” Daniels said. “This is the final stage of my discovery process.”
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.