INDIANAPOLIS – Purdue University President Mitch Daniels has escaped the political spotlight somewhat.
But as was evident at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Tuesday, that political charisma is still there.
“So who was the other driver?” he asked a group of high school students, some who asked for his autograph.
Daniels knows, and still hears first hand, that some GOP faithful wish he were at the top of this year’s Republican presidential ticket.
“You know I still have friends in both parties around the country,” he said. “And lately I’ve heard from a lot of them you know, and some of them would like me to become active again. But I tell them I held out and got a better job.”
Daniels smiles when asked about those conversations quickly turning to a presidential bid.
“Yes, well it comes up,” he said. “And I say I think I held out and got something better.”
Since becoming president of Purdue University, Daniels vowed to no longer endorse political candidates at any level, standing aside he said from partisan politics.
“Out of respect for Purdue,” he said.
But the two-term Indiana governor and one-time adviser to President Ronald Reagan is still highly sought after and influential, choosing his words carefully when asked about the presidential candidates who are running.
“It obviously has its unfortunate aspects on both sides,” he said. “You’d rather wish people would be a little more civil with each other. But I’m more struck about what they’re not talking about.”
Daniels quickly turned the conversation to the national debt, promising to still talk about critical issues facing the country that impact students at Purdue.
“We’ve got to do something about that,” he said. “People are in denial about that. It’s terribly unfair to these young people that their elders have borrowed that kind of money and are continuing to, not to invest in their future but to spend on themselves today.”
This past weekend, Daniels in his commencement speech told graduates to ignore the notion their success will be based on luck or other people.
“I hope you’ll tune out anyone who from this day on tries to tell you that your achievements aren’t your own,” he said at Purdue.
We asked whether he thought Donald Trump, the presumed GOP presidential nominee, has taken that same approach.
“I’m not sure he’s taken anybody’s advice,” he said. “I wasn’t talking to presidential candidates. I was talking to young people and the fact it’s really up to them.”
And that's how Daniels shifts the conversation these days, always back to Purdue.
A bit easier, he admits, to watch the 2016 political fray from afar.
“Yes,” he said laughing. “Very perceptive question. It is.”