May 22, 2011
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniel’s unexpected decision not to pursue the Republican presidential nomination is another blow to GOP prospects as the dropout rate of potential candidates continues to rise. But it is good news for several current contenders and also leaves an opening for others who have so far resisted jumping into the battle.
With former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, real estate tycoon Donald Trump and now Daniels out of the running, there is good news for the remaining contenders and an opening for others who have so far resisted jumping into the battle.
Daniels, in a middle-of-night email message to supporters, said his decision was prompted by family considerations. “In the end, I was able to resolve every competing consideration but one,” he wrote. “The interests and wishes of my family, is the most important consideration of all. If I have disappointed you, I will always be sorry.”
Daniels, in his second term as governor after having served as President Bush’s budget director, has been courted by heavyweights in the GOP to make the plunge. News reports circulated that former First Lady Laura Bush had made a personal appeal to Daniels’ wife, who is reportedly at best ambivalent about such a run. It also is no secret that many GOP power-brokers saw Daniels as the party’s most formidable challenger to President Barack Obama.
GOP strategist Mike Murphy said on NBC’s Meet the Press that Daniels would have been “a real heavyweight” had he entered the contest. His departure sparked renewed speculation that some other Republican star may yet enter the race. Some GOP strategists still hope that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush might be enticed to enter the race, though there is concern that the “Bush” name still carries too much baggage in the wake of President George W. Bush’s high unfavorable numbers when he left the White House in 2009.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, whose tough belt-tightening actions and faceoffs with public employee unions have thrust him into the national spotlight, will also come under increasing pressure to make a bid. He has said in at least one recent interview that he is not ready to be president, but some in the party are unlikely to be dissuaded from trying to twist his arm.
At the same time, Daniels’ decision is a temporary boost to the recently-announced candidacy of former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty as well as to current front-runner, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who is a sure-bet to run, though he is not yet an official candidate. Despite no formal declaration, Romney is raising a great deal of money, making appearances and leads recent polls measuring support for GOP candidates.
Still Daniels’ decision is unquestionably a blow to Republicans who are concerned that the current field is not strong. By contrast, Daniels, governor of a Midwestern state that Obama carried in 2008 — the first Democrat to carry the state since Lyndon Johnson — was seen as best positioned politically to cut into the White House’s likely game plan for 2012 of building on its success in the heartland as in 2008.
House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan acknowledged the impact of Daniels’ decision on NBC’s “Meet the Press” today: “Quite frankly, yes, I am disappointed. I think his candidacy would have been a great addition to this race, and I think it's unfortunate that he's not going to run.”
Ryan seemed to rule out his own presidential bid, though he still left a small opening. “I am not running for president. I'm not planning on running for president. If you're running for president, you've got to do a lot of things to line up a candidacy. I've not done any of those things. It's not my plan. My plan is to be a good chairman of House Budget Committee and fight for the fiscal sanity of this nation.” When pressed further he added: “You never know what opportunities present themselves way down the road. I'm not talking about right now.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has apologized for his comment on “Meet the Press” a week ago that Ryan’s Medicare proposal — adopted by the House — was “radical” and “right-wing social engineering,” had nothing but praise for Daniels today in an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“He is one of the great reform governors in this country. He's one of the hopes that you can get things fixed. His education reforms are remarkable. He's done a great job of bringing jobs to Indiana,” said Gingrich, who recently announced his candidacy. "He would have been a very formidable competitor. I really thought he would be in the front-runners from Day One if he'd decided to run."
In the end, however, Daniels decided the cost was too great, but he also signaled his sensitivity to the disappointment his decision would cause. “If you feel that this was a non-courageous or unpatriotic decision, I understand and will not attempt to persuade you otherwise,” Mr. Daniels wrote in the short email, as reported by The New York Times. “I only hope that you will accept my sincerity in the judgment I reached.” And despite the hand-wringing in some GOP circles, Murphy noted on Meet the Press today, that the “nomination in this economy is worth having.”