Purdue University President Mitch Daniels’ defenders are correct when they say there’s a faction on campus that probably will forever lock in on the notion that a political tiger can’t change his stripes.
And the defenders are correct that Daniels shouldn’t get hung up on that. So much of what he’s doing on campus is shaking Purdue up in the right way.
But for the rest — those who were willing to give the governor-turned-university president a fair shake — Daniels gave a metric and told people to hold him to it: Partisan politics stopped in June 2012, the day he was announced as the next Purdue president.
So why would Daniels tempt fate by walking so close to a political trip wire?
Last week, Daniels flew to Minneapolis to give a talk to a conservative think tank called the Center of the American Experiment. His audience — the group says its “aim is nothing less than shifting Minnesota’s intellectual and political center of gravity to the right” — by itself, is not a concern.
The topic, and why Daniels is broaching it now, is.
The particulars of his speech aren’t clear. Daniels and those who were there aren’t sharing. But last week’s fundraiser, which included the chance to donate to get photo ops or dinner with Daniels, was touted as a discussion of what Daniels did as governor to cut taxes and preserve state finances. The center’s promo for the event looked forward to Daniels’ advice “for what Minnesotans might hope leads to a few teachable moments in St. Paul.”
You could say Daniels was steering clear of his partisan past if he’d gone to any group — with any political lean — to tell about Purdue’s role in higher education or some other campus-related topic.