The admirers of Mitch Daniels are entitled to spend the next few days crying in their beer, while both praising their man and lamenting his decision not to run for president. But his undeniable virtues should not so cloud our judgment that we buy into a myth that he was headed for inevitable victory had not his family objected to having their personal history turned into a public spectacle by both a prurient media and bloodthirsty opponents. Daniels had a lot going for him but for all of his fiscal smarts, he was also a work in progress as a credible commander-in-chief. Even more, he was as dependent on unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances tilting the election in his favor as any of them.
Daniels’s decision leaves the Republicans with a field that has many of them unsatisfied. This understandable state of mind causes many observers to believe that new candidates must appear simply because logic dictates that they must come forth to fill the supposed political vacuum that Daniels’s exit has created. But just because it seems logical that the circumstances will impel a plausible Republican to arise and rescue the party from its doldrums doesn’t mean that one exists or that he will step forward on cue. Those expecting Jeb Bush, Chris Christie or Paul Ryan or somebody else to reverse previous decisions to stay out of the presidential race are entitled to hope but I have yet to hear a credible argument as to why the very serious obstacles to each of their candidacies have been removed simply because some Republicans wish it to be so.
Should those figures not jump in, this would not be the first major party presidential nomination that was won by a member of a group of hopefuls that were initially deemed unpromising. The best example is the group of unlikely Democrats who ran in 1992 when wiser heads such as Mario Cuomo or Al Gore stayed out because of President George H.W. Bush’s supposed strength in the wake of the first Gulf War. And we all know how badly that turned out for the Democrats. Sometimes a man becomes president simply because he has the chutzpah to run when more prudent politicians stay home.
The challenges for whomever emerges from the current field of Republican candidates will be far greater than those faced by Clinton. But unless the nomination is captured by the most extreme forces in the party (a clear sign that, as was the case for the Republicans in 1964 and the Democrats in 1972, theirs is a hopeless cause anyway), then the winner will be someone who will have proved his mettle and have at least a fighting chance of succeeding in November. Despite the aura of attractiveness that hangs about anyone who is out of the battle, none of the people who are staying out of the race can claim much more than that. Republicans who want to beat Barack Obama should stop pining for unattainable saviors and start, to paraphrase Stephen Stills’s old song, loving one of the ones that they are with.