Election 2012: Mitch Daniels out, where does that leave the GOP?

Citing family considerations, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels says he will not run for president. That leaves the rest of the GOP field angling for position at a time when many Republicans are less than thrilled with the current choices.

Adriane Jaeckle/The Indianapolis Star/AP
In this 2005 photo, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels appears with his wife Cheri during his inaugural address. Citing family considerations, Daniels has announced that he would not run for president in 2012.

Mitch Daniels’ decision not to run for president in 2012 sets scrambling the remaining declared and likely candidates, not to mention professional campaigners, funding sources, and political pundits.

Who benefits from the Hoosier Hamlet’s sitting out the election? Where does that leave the more establishment candidates and the tea party outliers?

Winnowing is always inevitable, but there’s a sense among Republican voters that their champion may not be evident among the existing field.

What that leaves, as Jonathan Martin at puts it, is “a GOP establishment deeply worried that the flawed options they’re left with won’t be any match for an incumbent president who seemingly won’t face a primary but is likely to shatter campaign fundraising records.”

Blogging at the conservative Weekly Standard, William Kristol writes: “It would be unfair to call the current field a vacuum. But it doesn't exactly represent an overflowing of political talent.”

Speaking Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press, House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin pronounced himself “disappointed” at Daniels’ decision.

“I think his candidacy would have been a great addition to this race,” Ryan said. "I think it's unfortunate that he's not going to run.”

As much as anything else, the maneuvering among possible GOP presidential candidates has been marked by those who’ve pulled out, plus those who’ve issued Shermanesque “no means no” statements refusing to run.

So far, that includes Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, Haley Barbour, John Thune, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, and Paul Ryan.

On the other hand, as Kristol puts it, “insofar as politics abhors even a near-vacuum, others are bound to get in.”

Saturday that was Herman Cain. Monday, Tim Pawlenty is scheduled to announce.

Jonathan Tobin, senior online editor of the conservative magazine Commentary, says the Daniels move “gives a tremendous boost to former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.”

“Pawlenty … combines fiscal conservatism along with a strong appeal to evangelicals and other social conservatives,” Tobin writes. “He also knows what he’s talking about when it comes to a president’s main responsibility: foreign policy which is more than you can say about most of the Republicans who are running.”

Meanwhile, impressions that the GOP establishment is looking to one of its own to challenge Barack Obama has left some in the party’s tea party wing grumbling.

"It's extremely upsetting to hear that the establishment is courting their own candidate when Michele Bachmann, the gold standard, has been in the fight, bucking the establishment that got us in this mess," Katrina Pierson, a tea party leader in Dallas told the Associated Press.

With Huckabee’s withdrawal, that leaves Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich at the top of the heap in terms of name recognition and ballot position among Republicans, according to the latest Gallup poll.

But each of these three has problems.

Romney is tarred with his “RomneyCare” Massachusetts health insurance plan with its individual mandate requiring coverage. Most Americans say they’d never vote for Palin. And Gingrich may never recover from his calling Rep. Ryan's Medicare proposal "right-wing social engineering."

As for Daniels – the Indiana Governor with a strong and proven record on budget cutting – it was clear from his statement Saturday night that his decision not to run was based on family considerations.

Though he’s answered the question many times, he’d continually have to explain his unusual marriage.

In 1993, Mrs. Daniels left her husband and their four young daughters to marry another man in California. Four years later, Mitch and Cheri Daniels remarried.

In the end, it was the opinion of his wife and four adult daughters that made the difference.

“What could have been a complicated decision was in the end very simple: on matters affecting us all, our family constitution gives a veto to the women’s caucus, and there is no override provision,” he said in his statement. “Simply put, I find myself caught between two duties. I love my country; I love my family more.”

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