Some observations as Daniels bows out

So Mitch Daniels is not running for president. That’s what I expected—on Tuesdays and Thursday and alternate weekends; on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I was convinced he would run, and on the leftover weekends I was uncertain.


Let’s review the bidding.


In, in alphabetical order: Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Gary Johnson, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum.


Probably in: Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman.

Probably not in: John Bolton, Sarah Palin.


Out: Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, Mike Huckabee, Mike Pence, John Thune.


Declared out but still being wooed: Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Paul Ryan.


Observation number one: only one of the In or Probably In candidates holds public office, and that is Ron Paul who in the House of Representatives is often on the minority side of 422-1 roll calls. All five of the out candidates holds public office, though Barbour will leave the governorship at the beginning of 2012 and Daniels will do so at the beginning of 2013. The demands of running for president and of tending to official duties have some impact here.  


Observation number two: some of the In candidates have had problems lately. Rick Santorum got called out for saying that John McCain doesn’t understand enhanced interrogation techniques. The best that can be said about that is that it was not a tactful way of making what might have been a legitimate argument. Herman Cain, whose performance at the first Republican debate impressed Frank Luntz’s focus group, showed today that he doesn’t have the faintest idea what the right of return means. That’s a pretty high level of ignorance on foreign policy. As for Newt Gingrich, one might say he had a better week than Dominique Strauss-Kahn.


Observation number three: some of the In candidates have underperformed the Republican base vote. Rick Santorum got 41% of the vote in 2006 in a key target state that voted 48% for George W. Bush and 44% for John McCain. In the 6th congressional district of Minnesota, where Bush got 57% of the vote in 2004 and McCain got 53% in 2008, Michele Bachmann won with 46% in 2006, 50% in 2008 and 53% in 2008. Usually a party wants a nominee who has shown the ability to run ahead of the party’s base vote (as Santorum did arguably in 1994 and indisputably in 2000).


Observation number four: I pass along Hugh Hewitt’s observation that only two of the candidates currently in the race have been assembling first-rate organizations so far, Pawlenty and Romney. Others may do so, but they haven’t yet.


Observation number five: There has been lots of moaning about the poor quality of the field of Republican candidates. Some of this comes from the Obama camp, who naturally want to argue that none of these candidates’ experience measures up against what Barack Obama has had in the White House these past two and a half years; Republicans can argue that at least some of these candidates have more executive and government experience than Obama had in 2008, but the fact is that he knows more about being president than any of them does. Over on the Weekly Standard blog Bill Kristol writes that “the current field . . . . doesn’t exactly represent an overflowing of political talent” and argues that “the field could well remain open and fluid until Thanksgiving.” That sort of thing has happened before: Bill Clinton didn’t announce until October 1991. I think all this disparaging or semi-disparaging talk represents a mature appreciation of the huge demands and burdens of the office of president and that it’s hard to imagine as president someone who hasn’t held the office. In 1932 Walter Lippmann, who had observed Franklin Roosevelt closely for more than a decade, wrote that Roosevelt was “a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be president.” Over the last two decades we have watched Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, each of whom was described by at least some pundits in terms resembling Lippmann’s evaluation of FDR, learn on the job.  


Four weeks ago in his statement announcing he would not run Haley Barbour wrote, “A candidate today is embracing a ten-year commitment to an all-consuming effort, to the virtual exclusion of all else.” The wonder to me is not why so few men and women are running for president but why so many are.

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