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What the Heck Is Going on With Mitch Daniels' Top Adviser in This Senate Race?

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

On Tuesday morning, Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) launched his Senate bid to replace Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN), who will be retiring after one term to run for governor of Indiana. Although no other candidates have emerged, there has been chatter about him facing a possible primary challenge from former Gov. Mitch Daniels, even before Banks officially announced. In the days since Banks announcement, though, those close to Daniels have appeared to become increasingly unhinged.


POLITICO's Adam Wren has highlighted a series of tweets from Mark Lubbers, a top adviser to Daniels who was replying to Wren over Twitter. 

Lubbers' tweets include a series of NeverTrumper talking points, including calling former and potentially future President Donald Trump "traitorous" as well as doubling down on his view that Trump is an "ignorant narcissistic bully." When it comes to the latter, Lubbers adds the context of how he believes Trump cost Republicans control of the Senate in 2020 and 2022. 


His last tweet highlighted by Wren includes what seems to be the closest suggestion yet that Daniels may be running, with Lubbers also noteworthily implying that Trump and his supporters may not be true Republicans. "I’m from the Republican wing of the Republican Party.  Not the Trump wing," Lubbers tweeted. "America is ready for a conservative resurgence.  But we need optimistic and constructive leadership that can bring people together … the way Mitch did as our governor," he goes on to say. 

Wren had been tweeting out excerpts of an article he and Burgess Everett wrote on Wednesday night for POLITICO, on "‘Ground zero of the Republican Civil War’: The Indiana Senate race could get ugly, quickly." In addition to being tweeted and retweeted multiple times, the article appears as Wren's pinned tweet. 

Such tweets mentioned above suggest that, if anything, Lubbers may be the one engaging in a "Republican Civil War."

Lubbers is mentioned throughout Wren's piece, including when it comes to a response from someone close to Banks:

Trump allies aren’t waiting for those talks to end before they unload. In a series of tweets in recent days, Donald Trump. Jr. accused Daniels of being a “weak RINO,” “Mitt Romney 2.0,” and “Mitch Romney (RINO-IN).” In private conversations, the elder Trump has also made derisive remarks about the 5-foot-7 Daniels’ height, calling him a “midget,” according to two people with knowledge of his remarks.

In response, Mark Lubbers, Daniels’ closest advisor and confidante, has unloaded on what he has called the “Trump crime family” in recent statements.


“Mitch frightens them,” Bill Oesterle, Daniels’ first campaign manager in his 2004 run for governor, said of the Trump wing of the party. Daniels’s candidacy would be “an existential threat to whatever is left of their waning influence.”

A spokesman for Indiana Republican Party chairman Kyle Hupfer pledged in a statement to POLITICO that it will stay neutral, as will Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.). But national and state-based Republican operatives said they expect the primary would burn through tens of millions of dollars (Lubbers has told allies he would have $50 million in support from donors on the day he announces), and leave bruised feelings and charred reputations in its wake.


Lubbers, who has long opposed Trump’s takeover of the party, said in an interview that the race could be “ground zero of the Republican Civil War.” Banks, he added “has become the proxy for beating everything that’s gone wrong since the grifters took over our party. This is Gettysburg. … Poor Banks has been given the role of George Pickett.”

A person close to Banks, in contrast, noted that “Donald Trump turned Indiana deep red,” adding that “if Mitch were serious about running, his best friend [Lubbers] and political advisor wouldn’t be badmouthing President Trump and his 1.7 million Hoosier voters to the media.”


It's no secret that Banks and Trump have a close connection. The video campaign announcement include footage of Trump sitting beside Banks, with a reminder that Banks has a commitment to "America First policies." As then chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), Banks and other Republican members also met with Trump to provide encouragement last August, not long after Mar-a-Lago had been raided. 

On Thursday afternoon, Donald J. Trump for President 2024, Inc. sent out an email directing people to a Daily Mail exclusive highlighting how Banks has invited Trump to campaign with him. 

The support that Trump has in Indiana is undeniable. He won the state by almost 20 points in 2016 and by 16 points in 2020

Donald Trump Jr. also tweeted against Daniels, as is mentioned in Wren's piece.

On Tuesday, when Banks had announced, a GOP operative who is close to Banks also provided a statement for Townhall. "It takes balls of steel to stand up to the Mitch Daniels establishment in Indiana and with his announcement today, Jim Banks is already proving that he has the type of courage it takes to make a terrific US Senator. His willingness to stand up to the good ol’ boy club in Indiana and Washington DC is exactly why the America First movement is quickly unifying behind his run. If Banks wins this race, conservative stalwarts like JD Vance, Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz will have another ally in the United States Senate," the operative said.


Others have spoken out against Daniels and a potential candidacy, including Kurt Schlichter in a Monday column for Townhall, "Mitch Daniels for Senate in 2004!"

In addition to referring to Daniels as being "on the cutting edge of two-decade-old Republicanism," Schlichter had other evidence for why the former governor might be something of a RINO:

Who is Mitch Daniels anyway? He is beloved by the kind of conservatives who are always telling us fighters to use our inside voices. He is the guy the David Brooks types wistfully wish had run for president in 2016 so that he could have lost like a gentleman to Felonia Milhous von Pantsuit. Mitt Romney – if he were not going to be dumped by Utah voters in the primary by an actual Republican like Robert O’Brien or Jason Chaffetz – would love having Mitch join him in 2024 as part of the GOP collaboration caucus. And that other Mitch, the aging-out Mitch McConnell, would be thrilled to have Mitch Daniels in the Senate. Daniels is not going to rock any boats. Rocking boats is not who he is. He’s better than that. Oh, well, he never!

Milquetoast Mitch thinks about you uppity peasants exactly what Cocaine Mitch does – you should be seen voting and donating but not heard. He famously called for a “truce” in the culture war – yeah, let’s hold back fighters like Ron DeSantis and Jim Banks so the leftist enemy can refit, rearm, and castrate more kids because their Munchausen mommies want Billy to become Suzy. 

Hard pass, especially when Indiana can elect a guy like Banks, who Pelosi hated so much she refused to allow him on the January 6 kangaroo kommittee.


Mitch Daniels has got a jump on that. He’s already started trashing us. As Don Jr. observed, Mitch went on the Bulwark podcast (Strike One) with Mona Charen (Strike Two) and responded, “Completely agree,” when that Never Trump harpy screeched that “MAGA Republicans” are “subverting democracy” (Strike Three). How 2004 is it for a Republican to think that the biggest problem with America is other Republicans?

We’re done with these invertebrate losers. We want fighters. We want warriors. We want winners.

Look, I have nothing against Mitch Daniels as a person. He’s just weak and totally willing to defer to the establishment and institutions that hate us and tolerate him because he will never, ever do anything about them. I would not mind him as a neighbor – he’s the kind of simp you can talk into watering your lawn while you are in Cabo. But we need GOP senators who recognize that this is not the turn of the century, that what our enemies falsely call “principles” and “norms” represent the weaponization of our good nature and moral grounding in order to disenfranchise and silence us. Mitch Daniels would rather throw down his guns and throw up his hands when faced with icky and uncomfortable fights. 


A Republican who is supportive of Banks also provided a statement to Townhall on Thursday contrasting Daniels and Banks, while also pointing out that Lubbers could actually be making this worse for Daniels. "This Lubbers guy is the real MVP of the race so far. It's clear that both Mitch and his team are stuck in the year 2008 and have zero understanding of GOP Primary politics in 2023. Mitch's liberal record as Governor and his woke policies at Purdue were going to cause him enough headaches in this race, but the unhinged tweets from Lubbers are only making things tougher for him," the Republican said. 

The beef does not appear to be anything personal between Banks and Daniels. "Banks and Daniels had a cordial phone call last week, according to four Republicans briefed on the call, during which the younger Hoosier said he respected Daniels. Banks had organized an event on a northeastern farm for the former governor ahead of his first gubernatorial run nearly two decades ago," Wren mentioned in his piece. 

Daniels, however, declined to further comment. "From what I'm told," he texted, "others are doing a good job of that." That right there may just be comment enough.

Despite all of this animosity and talk of "Republican Civil War," Daniels still is not ready to announce whether or not he is running, and says he's in "no rush."


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