Daschle says no to chief of staff

Four years ago, Tom Daschle was very interested in formally joining the Obama administration.

Today? The thought of Daschle taking a key role in the White House is being floated, but early Friday, he told me he is not a candidate for the chief of staff job.

“Denis McDonough, who used to work with me; Ron Klain, who also worked with me; and Tom Nides, a good friend, are the men under consideration,” Daschle said in an email from Tokyo, where he is studying high-speed rail for possibly bringing such a system to the northeast in the USA.

“We should know soon,” he said. Some journalists agree with his assessment.

Daschle, who served four terms as a South Dakota congressman (1979-1987) and three as a senator (1987-2005), was President Obama’s initial choice to be secretary of Health and Human Services back in 2008-2009.

But revelations about tax problems and a preference for limos and a driver forced Daschle to drop out. The Aberdeen native with a reputation as a smart, low-key guy who used to drive himself across South Dakota and stop in every county during his tenure in Congress was seen by his critics as a privileged insider.

His life in politics and government seemed at an end, and he told me he no longer followed South Dakota politics closely. He did appear in the state a few times in 2012, speaking at the funerals of Bill Janklow and George McGovern.

But a political comeback seemed possible, at least for a short time. In the past 24 hours, The Hill posted a blog suggesting Daschle, 65, would be an ideal choice to serve as Obama’s latest chief of staff.

Obama nominated his current chief of staff, Jack Lew, to serve as secretary of the treasury on Thursday, as a typical cabinet shakeup takes place at the end of a first term.

“Daschle has enormous credibility, respect and experience throughout the upper strata of American political and business leadership. He is trusted by leading Democrats and has long-term relations of trust with a long list of leading Republicans, which will be essential to achieving major goals in the current political climate in Washington,” Brent Budowsky wrote.

The idea quickly swept across the web, but Daschle was not on board with the plan, according to Maria Recio of Planet Washington.

“Daschle is now a senior policy adviser at DLA Piper, a high-powered law firm and his wife Linda is a well-known lobbyist. Ethics rules would restrict her ability to lobby — an apparent deal-killer for him to take the job,” Recio wrote.

Daschle seems happy, making a ton of money, living a life free of the stress he dealt with on a regular basis when he was the Democratic leader in the Senate. He has been mentioned as a possible chief of staff before, and didn’t take it then.

He still lunches with and advises Obama on a regular basis, and since many of his former staffers have worked in this White House, he has influence and contacts. His former chief of staff, Pete Rouse, spent three months as Obama’s chief of staff in 2010-2011, so Daschle could ask him how that worked.

But why would he want to serve as chief of staff? It’s a high-pressure job, and Obama has already plowed through four of them in his first term.

Plus, Daschle once held dreams of the presidency. When he thought of working in the White House, he pictured himself seated in the Oval Office, not serving the person in it.

However, he is still very interested in how things work, or don’t work, in Washington, as he told CNN last year. He shared an interview with his old colleague and sparring partner Trent Lott, the former Republican senator from Mississippi. Which offers a chance to share this piece I wrote five years ago about the two men for my old Montana newspaper.

I doubt Daschle will serve in the White House in any capacity, but he will likely remain an influential voice in the next four years.

When I asked for a final confirmation that he was not interested in the chief of staff’s post, and it was safe to report that, his answer was succinct: “Yes,” he wrote.

Washington Post: Romney should emulate Thune approach

The way to defeat Barack Obama is tied to South Dakota’s epic 2004 Senate race.

At least that’s the take of a Washington Post blogger. Chris Cillizza writes that Mitt Romney faces a problem this fall: People like Obama. Some people who disagree with his policies like him personally. So how does the presumed GOP candidate counter that?

Crillizza suggests looking at how John Thune defeated Tom Daschle in the most expensive, high-profile Senate race in South Dakota history:

“Thune and his campaign didn’t try to make the race about personalities. Instead of arguing that Daschle was a bad guy, Thune made the case that Daschle was a good guy with the wrong priorities for the state,” Cillizza wrote. “That, at the end of the day, everyone liked Daschle but that Daschle had lost touch with the perspective of average South Dakotans.”

If that was the reason, it worked. Thune defeated Daschle as South Dakota voters tossed aside the most powerful Democrat in the Senate, and a man who had served the state for 26 years.

Obama has a much shorter history with American voters. But Thune was a strong, talented campaigner fresh off a razor-thin loss to Tim Johnson in 2002. Voters knew and liked him. Romney hasn’t shown great style so far, fumbling and stumbling often.

Romney, whom Thune has endorsed and campaigned for, may follow the South Dakota Republican’s approach. If he does, will what worked in South Dakota be effective nationally?

And isn’t it amazing how that eight-year-old Senate race has lingered on the state and national scene?

Will it be Newt after all?

In the end, can Newt actually win this? Yeah, maybe so, in this bizarro Republican contest.

It’s his turn at the top, but that has been a slippery place to be in the past six months. Michelle Bachmann rose and fell. Rick Perry had a second or two in the lead before he plummeted. Herman Cain was at the forefront for a few days.

Then, Mitt Romney was, once again, deemed inevitable. Now, maybe not, maybe not at all, as the Republican Party picks its nominee to take on President Obama.

Newt Gingrich has been written off more times than a business lunch, but he pops up again, cocky, combative and capable of getting tons of free media. His big win in the South Carolina primary was based on touting conservative views, bashing the media and dominating the debates.

While Romney has the money, the organization and the pure personal life, he is awkward on stage, has handled the questions about his income and taxes horribly — and he is a Mormon. To a lot of the Christian conservatives who dominate much of the GOP selection process, that is the gravest sin.

Rick Santorum (be careful when you Google him) won, or at least tied Romney, at the Iowa caucus, although the media proclaimed Romney the winner for two weeks while votes were still being counted and collected.

Mitt won the New Hampshire primary, as was expected, and for a time he was 2-0 and leading in South Carolina. But that is so last Wednesday.

Santorum was a distant third in South Carolina, but he’s hoping Gingrich self-destructs and he is the most viable conservative standing.

Ron Paul, the aged, cranky Texas libertarian, has a small but dedicated following. He has said he doesn’t expect to be the nominee, then changed his tune and said, sure, I can win. But probably not.

If Newt can somehow get Santorum to join him, to earn those conservative followers, perhaps he does somehow earn the GOP nomination. My head still says Mitt is still the man most likely, but I think the GOP heart and gut says Newt is their true love, despite his past failings.

If this battle continues long enough, perhaps South Dakota’s primary on June 5 will become a factor. Maybe the circus will come to town once again, as it did for the Democrats in 2008.

And maybe, just maybe, for the first time since 1952, the Republican convention will mean something other than a coronation. Perhaps another candidate will emerge and the fabled “brokered convention” will return from the dim days of long-past history. Did someone mention Jeb Bush?

John Thune, power and irony

The correct term is irony.

And for once, it’s used correctly. John Thune’s elevation to the No. 3 spot in the Senate Republican leadership is remarkable, impressive, and yes, ironic.
Thune gained a Senate seat by defeating Tom Daschle in 2004 in an election where the major issue was, had Daschle grown too big for his SD britches and too comfortable in his East Coast tuxedo?

SD voters decided the answer was yes, and Daschle, after three terms in the Senate and 26 years in Congress, was out. He had risen to the post of Democratic leader of the Senate, a tremendous accomplishment but apparently a kiss of death in his home state.

Now, Thune is the No. 3 GOPer in the Senate and rising like a hit single. The No. 2 man, Republican Whip Sen. John Kyl, has said he will put down the whip next year, so JT could move up again.

Thune told me he likes having a seat at the table to make the case for South Dakota issues and ideas.

He also said Tuesday he feels his views and votes are in sync with South Dakota, so he may be less vulnerable. Perhaps that differentiates him from Daschle, George McGovern and Larry Pressler, who served three terms in the Senate from South Dakota but were denied a fourth.

It’s been called the Kurse of Karl, in honor of SD’s only four-term senator, Karl Mundt. But some in South Dakota’s tiny chattering class say it has more to do with the perception of power than a fourth term. We’re small staters who don’t like to see someone put on titles or airs.

Of course, if Thune runs for vice president and is elected in 2012, or if he runs for and wins the White House in 2016 or 2020 — and he’s still just 50 — he need not worry about that.

Being one of the top Republicans in the Senate, with a new assignment to appear before the media as often as possible, is a great way to get there.

Thune at peace with decision

John Thune sounded very content Tuesday afternoon as he explained to me why he wasn’t running for president.

Thune said he just didn’t feel the time was right. He said he wants to keep working in the Senate. The idea of striving to raise hundreds of millions of dollars while traveling across the country and competing with numerous other Republicans who want the nation’s top job just didn’t appeal to him.

In 1975, Minnesota Sen. Walter Mondale, a Democrat, said he didn’t have the “fire in the belly” to run for president in 1976. Mondale also said he didn’t want to spend two years of his life in Holiday Inns.

I asked Thune, a Republican, if he felt the same way as Mondale. While he didn’t discuss the condition of the blaze in his belly, he did admit he wasn’t thrilled by the idea of flying around the country and staying in hotels.

Thune said he genuinely enjoys the Senate and likes working for the people of South Dakota. He was just elected to a second term in the Senate without opposition and at 50, has a long political career ahead of him if he wants it.

Thune is a conservative and Mondale a liberal. But it’s worth noting that after bowing out of the 1976 presidential race, Mondale accepted Jimmy Carter’s offer to run as his VP candidate and he served four years in that office. Will Thune emulate his Midwest neighbor  next year?

And Mondale got over his aversion to a presidential run. He was the Democratic nominee in 1984 and was crushed by President Reagan. Thune certainly doesn’t want to follow that path, but he may decide to run for the White House down the road.

Here’s Mondale reflecting on his career:


And here’s Thune talking about how the GOP can win in 2012: