Michael Barone has an interesting if shallow piece about Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels as a GOP presidential contender for 2012. I firmly believe that Daniels is the only Republican who could plausibly beat Obama. While the casual observer might consider Obama eminently beatable at the moment, incumbency is a powerful advantage and being unpopular doesn't matter as much if the opposition can't field a good candidate (see 2004). Daniels' great political asset, the one that places him head and shoulders above the sad Republican pack, is the fact that he looks and sounds like a normal human being. He always, and I mean always, sounds like he knows what he's talking about. He sounds like he went to college and might even read books in his leisure time. The same can probably be said about Mitt Romney, but unlike Daniels he comes off as fake, plastic, and insincere. Whether he has learned it through diligent practice or was lucky enough to be born with the skill, Daniels has that widely coveted ability to look and sound natural, like a Normal Guy.
Because most voters make a superficial investment in electoral politics at best, these traits make Daniels extremely popular in Indiana even as Obama won the state in 2008. Democrats and Independents, at least the kind who don't bother learning anything about a candidate's record, are easily won over by Daniels' earnest, not-too-folksy Straight Talk. Think of a younger version of John McCain (circa 2002, not the embarrassing thing we saw in 2008) with better camera skills and more money.
Though Daniels could conceivably beat Obama, Barone glosses over the obvious fact that he probably can't win a Republican primary. Teabaggers, Glenn Beck fans, Evangelicals, neocons, and the various other inmates in the GOP asylum will tear this guy to pieces. Despite being substantially conservative on both fiscal and social issues (he famously promised to shut down Planned Parenthood in his 2004 gubernatorial campaign, although he may have been lying to win over some Dobsonites) any internet item about Daniels is immediately filled with wingnuts declaring him a "RINO." His laid back, friendly doctor persona lacks the kind of WWF-style theatrics that play well with the GOP base. And for the kind of urban, college educated Republican who actually cares about issues (I know, there aren't many) Daniels may have a hard time living down some of his dubious decisions as Governor. I'm referring primarily to his deal to sell off Indiana toll roads to a Spanish corporation. The state netted $2 billion in cash for a 100 year lease, and toll revenues over that 100 years are projected at $80 billion. This is the exact same logic as taking out a payday loan. "I don't care if I have to pay back $3000 eventually – I get $500 right now!" More than one primary opponent will ask if that's the way Daniels approaches problem-solving.
2010 is going to be a good year for the GOP, but it is a harbinger of some very turbulent times in the party's near future. As Tea Party affiliated GOP strategist Richard Viguerie said recently, "We’re all on the same page until the polls close Nov. 2. (After that) a massive, almost historic battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party begins." Pat Buchanan has also forecast a pitched battle for ideological dominance in the party. Teabaggers, emboldened by what they will perceive as a mandate in 2010, will demand that the entire party hop into their Crazymobile and mash the gas pedal to the floor. Fundies will try in vain to refocus the agenda to include their pet social issues. Neocons won't give an inch on the ridiculously expensive wars in the Middle East and the overseas American military empire in general. And the moderate quasi-libertarian faction will wonder why the party they knew is now composed mostly of people who are so obviously fucking insane.
With the great Democratic victories in 2006/2008 came the unhappy realization that they would have to attempt to govern their way out of a mess of epic proportions. Similarly, the GOP will celebrate its 2010 gains only until the realization sets in that no one has any idea which one of the five different claimants to the title of Leader of the Conservative Movement is in charge. Sometimes, as one party has discovered and the other will shortly, the worst thing is getting exactly what you ask for.