And then Daniels -- who was President Bush's budget director -- launched into a dense speech about the ways America's finances, unless cleaned up soon, will crush the nation into oblivion.
Daniels is perhaps best known as the candidate who social conservatives love to hate -- attacks on Daniels plan for a short-term truce on social issues (so America can put aside its differences and focus on that Red Menace he mentioned) can be heard all across CPAC. Other possible contenders have been having fun needling him about it, too.
Social conservatives are, perhaps understandably, upset at the idea of taking a backseat until the budget gets balanced. And so they aren't too thrilled with Daniels.
The same can't be said of the Reagan-friendly older crowd at the CPAC banquet. They ate up his speech, giving Daniels a big round of applause and laughing at Daniels' many puns.
"Our morbidly obese federal government needs not just behavior modification but bariatric surgery," Daniels said, to a collective chuckle from the crowd.
Daniels made his case that the country was in deep, serious trouble with its debt, even calling for cuts to defense spending (something that would have been big news had he said it while running the Bush budget).
Daniels' other solutions were pretty straight-line Republican: limit the EPA, drill, cut, eliminate taxes on, privatize, etc.
Opponents will expect us to be defensive, but they have it backwards. When they call the slightest spending reductions "painful," we will say "if government spending prevents pain, why are we suffering so much of it?" And "if you want to experience real pain, just stay on the track we are on." When they attack us for our social welfare programs, we will say the true enemies of Social Security and Medicare are those who defend an imploding status quo, and the arithmetic backs us up.
A few things didn't get mentioned: Egypt, those aforementioned social issues. But there was one thing Daniels speech included that the other 2012 contender speeches at CPAC didn't have: an appeal to reason over partisanship.
"We should distinguish careful skepticism about Big Government from contempt for all government," he said. "After all, it is a new government we hope to form, a government we will ask our fellow citizens to trust to make huge changes."
At the tea party-fueled, Libertarian-heavy CPAC 2011 even that slight praise of the concept of government was radical stuff.
Note: quotes in this post come from the prepared version of Daniels' remarks, which he stuck closely to when he delivered them Friday night.