WHITE HORSE

Posted in Election 2012 on May 23rd, 2011 by Ed

Well, strike Mitch Daniels.

In a turn somewhat reminiscent of Colin Powell's refusal to run in 1996 (motivated largely by his wife's disdain for the idea) the Indiana Governor removed himself from the list of 2012 GOP contenders. Daniels appeared to be swayed by the "no" votes of his wife and children; I won't rehash all of the unsubstantiated rumors about the Daniels' marriage, but his wife was clearly of the opinion that it wouldn't be pleasant to litigate on the national stage. For the unaware, Daniels and his wife Cheri married in 1978 and divorced in the early 1990s. Then Cheri married some other guy before re-marrying Mitch in 1997. Tons of salacious theories about why they divorced are in circulation.

I still believe that the Secret Ay-Rab (Didn't realize that his grandparents are Syrian immigrants? Yeah, that probably would have "come up" in GOP primary campaigning) represented the best chance Republicans had to defeat Obama despite the fact that Daniels stood little chance of surviving the nomination process. Teabaggers would have torn him apart and religious conservatives are unlikely to have been swayed by his recent look-how-Jesusy-I-am grandstanding at the expense of Planned Parenthood. In the general election, though, his appeal could have been substantial.

Where does that leave the GOP field? Well, it's weaker. And it was already weak. Losing Huckabee and Daniels in rapid succession has left the party with few viable options. The biggest beneficiary of Daniels' exit has to be Tim Pawlenty, who now stands virtually unopposed in the "mainstream candidate who isn't Mitt Romney" role. T-Paw may have the appeal of white bread wadded up and dipped in tepid tap water, but if you're a moderate-ish Republican who can't overlook one of Romney's twin heresies – Mormonism and the Massachusetts health care reform law – you're really running out of options. Who else is there at this point? The Gingrich 2012 rollout has been a stunning failure on the level of the Edsel or Heaven's Gate. Ron Paul is a cult figure. Michelle Bachmann is mentally ill. Jon Huntsman has zero name recognition and twin heresies (Mormonism and working for the Obama administration) little different than Romney's.

A quick perusal of the available options makes it obvious why the GOP is starting to look around for a savior to come over the mountain riding a white horse. We saw this reaction in 2008 as well; when it became apparent in late 2007 that the field was terrible the Draft Fred Thompson drumbeat rose to a crescendo. Similarly, we are now starting to hear much more about "drafting" Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, and Rick Perry into the race. As Mr. Thompson proved in 2008, there are substantial problems with the Savior plan.

First, the candidate probably isn't as good as the panicky rank-and-file imagine him to be. Most other GOP elected officials are currently treating Ryan like he has leprosy; his defining attribute is a proposal to replace Medicare with a voucher and a mandate for Granny to find her own health insurance. Christie probably can't get re-elected in New Jersey and has the look and personality of a Sopranos extra. Perry's tired horseshit might play in Texas but unlike the previous Lone Star State Governor he can't even plausibly fake the centrist/moderate/compassionate conservatism persona. Everything you need to know about the field is encapsulated perfectly in the fact that these three knuckleheads are the "saviors".

Second, it's already getting late for someone to jump into the race. The Iowa Caucuses are six months away. The candidates who figure to be competitive in January have already laid the groundwork for a campaign and have boots on the ground in key primary states. Thompson proved that it's remarkably difficult – let's go ahead and say impossible – to throw together in a rush a campaign good enough to navigate the modern nomination process. Mitt Romney already has nine figures available in his war chest. What will a new Savior have when he declares in mid-June?

The GOP's saving grace might be that the candidate with the least appeal to the party base but the best odds of competing in the general election may win by default. If Pawlenty fails to catch fire – not hard to imagine, is it? – then I can't imagine who other than Mittens is going to win this thing. As nuts as the GOP base is, I have a hard time seeing Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann, and Ron Paul being serious contenders as opposed to flag-bearers for a specific faction in the party.

If these were my options, I'd be dreaming up fantastic scenarios involving knights in shining armor too.