Trump team bid? Purdue president grounds another flight of speculation

Purdue University president Mitch Daniels delivers the keynote presentation at the Columbus Economic Development Board annual meeting held May 5, 2014 at The Commons. FILE PHOTO
Purdue University president Mitch Daniels delivers the keynote presentation at the Columbus Economic Development Board annual meeting held May 5, 2014 at The Commons. FILE PHOTO

A funny thing’s been happening since Election Day along the nightly flight path over Lafayette, headed west into the Purdue University Airport.

As jets fly overhead, the rumor mill crank through text message networks and social media feeds in ways that should have been predictable by now on the West Lafayette campus.

Is that Team Trump landing to check out Purdue President Mitch Daniels, vetting the former Indiana governor for a cabinet appointment?

Daniels — busy, maybe, holding his head in his hands this week after Purdue Student Government leaders came up with permission slips for students too upset to go to class after Tuesday’s election — dealt with this round of flight pattern rumors pretty much the way he’s dealt with other speculation over the past year and a half.

Any truth behind those rumors?

Better yet, any interest if President-elect Donald Trump — or perhaps Vice President-elect Mike Pence, now in charge of the White House transition — comes knocking on Daniels’ door at Westwood, the Purdue president’s home off McCormick Road.

“Sincerely,” Daniels said this week, “answers are no and no.”

For extra measure, Daniels added: “As I said about running for president, why would I take the demotion?”

No amount of “as I said” will keep Daniels’ name out of the hopper.

After Trump’s victory Nov. 8, James Taranto, a columnist and member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, floated the suggestion that Daniels would make sense as education secretary.

That’s nothing new — neither the suggestions nor the rejection — for Daniels, who served two terms as governor before passing on a potential presidential run in 2012 and eventually landing at Purdue in January 2013.

Consider how many other paths back into elected office recently have been laid before Daniels, who is under contract at Purdue into 2020.

April 2015: On the heels of Indiana’s disastrous Religious Freedom Restoration Act and a growing discontent with Gov. Pence’s role in it all, Daniels’ former campaign manager made it known that he wanted Daniels to mount a challenge in the May 2016 Republican primary. Daniels reply: “Nope, nope, nope, nope. … Sooner or later, you’ll figure out that when I say these things, I mean them.”

April 2016: As the Trump nomination started to shape up, a “Draft Mitch” movement coincided with rumblings of a delegate insurrection in the search of an establishment white knight to rescue the party. Daniels brushed that aside, saying he fell “somewhere along the lines of half Gen. Sherman and half Sgt. Schultz on the topic.” The historic and pop culture references distilled: 1. I will not run if nominated. 2. I know nothing.

June 2016: Washington Post columnist George Will, a huge “My Man Mitch” fan and out front early on the anti-Trump crusade, repeated what he told Purdue crowds during a public Q&A with Daniels at Loeb Playhouse in December 2015: “Purdue has the president the nation needs.” Daniels let that one slide without much comment.

July 2016: As speculation swirled about Pence joining Trump as his vice presidential running mate, Daniels acknowledged that he was being pressed to consider putting his name in as a replacement. Oesterle started a “Draft Mitch” petition online. And all indications were that the job could have been Daniels’ if he wanted it. Daniels said he took a few days to think about what he called a hypothetical question — Pence still hadn’t been asked by Trump — but backed away, saying, “I love Purdue, its students, staff and alumni.”

So now, as jets land and take off from Purdue Airport, coming in from Lansing, Michigan, or Cincinnati or Fulton County, Georgia, Daniels finds himself grounding another manifest of speculation that has had campus watching the skies.

Like all those other times before, Daniels is back to a familiar refrain: As you were.

Dave Bangert is a writer for the (Lafayette) Journal and Courier. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.