Message to GOP: Mitch Daniels is not walking through that door

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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You’ve got to give Republicans credit. They never cease hoping a savior will rise from these streets and lead them to victory in November.

Bill Kristol, of course, has been leading this charge. But he’s not alone. Jennifer Rubin recently penned an “open letter to Republican leaders,” which chastised them for not running (or endorsing). Conservative leader Morton Blackwell recently floated an idea to make Bobby Jindal the nominee. And Dick Armey recently said he believes Mitch Daniels can still run.

On one hand, this isn’t quite as quixotic as it sounds. Three different candidates have won the first three contests. The March primaries must have some element of  proportionality. Unless Mitt Romney wins Florida, it seems likely the GOP nominating process will drag on for months. And it’s within the realm of possibility that no candidate will receive the 1,144 delegates required to become the nominee, leading to a brokered convention. This, of course, opens the door to all sorts of creative thinking.

But while the current GOP field is weak, the notion that the other candidates commonly bandied about would be superior strikes me as flawed. These bench sitters look good precisely because they didn’t run for president. (Had Rick Perry sat out, there is little doubt his name would be among those mentioned.) Every likely future candidate — just like every current candidate — comes with strengths and weaknesses.

To prove the point, let’s examine a few of the names most frequently mentioned …

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is a smart and serious man. But he looks like Vladimir Putin on TV. He has little charisma. (I’ve met him.) What is more, fairly recently, he offended social conservatives by saying we should have a “truce” on social issues — and fiscal conservatives by speaking favorably of a VAT tax. His wife doesn’t want him to run, and if he did run, his marriage would become an issue.

Haley Barbour left the governorship of Mississippi after pardoning 200 prisoners — including murderers and rapists. Fifteen minutes after leaving the job, he was a lobbyist again. And don’t forget that Barbour briefly flirted with running for president, during which time he became embroiled in a race scandal after praising the Citizens Council in Yazoo City, Mississippi.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has a terrific resume and a great record. He is obviously intelligent. But remember his widely-panned State of the Union response? Do Republicans want to take a chance he will pull a Perry?

I’ve previously listed the reasons Paul Ryan should take a pass this time around. And Jeb Bush? Yeah, his last name is … Bush.

… There are other potential names — but they all have liabilities which would quickly emerge.

The good news is that the GOP has a very strong bench. If Republicans fail to win the presidency in 2012, one can expect a very strong field in 2016. The field would likely include names like Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, Rand Paul, Susana Martinez, Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie — and others who will emerge in the coming years.

But, for now, I’m inclined to think Republicans should take Don Rumsfeld’s advice: “You go to war with the army you have—not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” (I hate to be the one to break it to you.)

Matt K. Lewis