Before the presidential election of 1980, William F. Buckley Jr. ’50 wrote a letter to Ronald Reagan, offering his suggestions for if the Californian were to win in November. Buckley advised Reagan: “What you need, obviously, isn’t men who are seeking government jobs, but men who might be persuaded to take them.” Good advice from the godfather of modern conservatism. As the 2012 presidential race approaches, Republicans would be wise to take these words to heart as they select a nominee.

Of course, ambition and big egos are a natural part of politics. They fueled the politics of hope that took Obama to the White House in 2008. Obama promised to change the way things were done in Washington. And yet, two years later, our national leadership remains plagued by a culture of incompetence. From the confused ideology of big government conservatism in the Bush administration to Obama’s arrogantly expansive brand of leftism, Americans are right to lack confidence in their government’s ability to address the issues that matter.

As the Republican field of contenders grows everyday, so does our national debt, which has now surpassed $14 trillion. Because my generation will be around to (literally) pay the price for it, we desperately need a leader who not only acknowledges debt as a problem but address it as a priority, no matter our party. Republicans in particular need a candidate who will modernize the Grand Old Party and make conservatism competitive in the years to come. America needs a president who can govern competently, has more to offer than empty rhetoric and, most importantly, has the experience not only to prove it, but also to lead.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is a tried-and-true small-government hero. He has distinguished himself as a public servant of competence and humility. Fiscal conservatism is not merely a nice-sounding talking point in his resume but genuinely characterizes his record in Indiana, as well as at the Office of Management and Budget, where he was nicknamed “the Blade” for his efforts to slash spending.

Daniels’ tenure in Indiana is not simply a story of a budget-balancing wonk. To be sure, his transformation of a deficit into a surplus — all the while slashing property taxes — is certainly impressive, and even more so in comparison to the woeful condition of other states. But his success also represents a triumph of imagination. Daniels is a creative reformer unafraid to tackle big problems that reach beyond simple budgeting. His efforts at health care and education reform in Indiana have gained national attention, and rightly so.

But Daniels is also appealing for another reason: modernization — of government and the Republican Party. Daniels’ support for a “truce” on social issues demonstrates his tenacity and pragmatism toward our $14 trillion problem, a view that could make the Republican Party appealing to younger voters. The idea for a social truce is a refreshing statement of priorities, one that has been missing from the past several presidential administrations and other divisive Republican contenders. Even social conservatives can get behind Daniels. His support for a truce does not compromise his status as a family values candidate, but enhances it. Those who wonder what kind of America their children will grow up in would be hard-pressed to find a better candidate.

Mitch Daniels is not a post-partisan pipe dream. He is electable because he is the real deal. What other candidate could bridge the gap between establishment conservatives and their populist tea party critics? What other candidate has a record so strong, but baggage so small? What other candidate promises most convincingly to address the issues that could potentially cripple our generation for years to come?

In short, Daniels offers the best of both worlds: reducing the size of government while simultaneously improving its efficiency to better serve Americans. Daniels is the sensible choice for the Republican nomination in 2012. He is proof that conservatism is more than “standing athwart history, yelling stop,” but that it can win, and more importantly, govern well once more.

Daniels has not actively sought the Republican nomination like other contenders have. But perhaps Americans of all political stripes should heed Buckley’s advice to Reagan and persuade him to throw his hat in the race. This task falls in part to our generation, tired of culture wars and government malaise. Started at Yale, the Student Initiative to Draft Daniels is working to do something. After all, we need a candidate not of promises, but of experience. We need Mitch Daniels.

Lauren Noble is a senior in Pierson College and the communications director for the Student Initiative to Draft Daniels.