So Mitch Daniels has passed on his moment in the sun. By all accounts, the Indiana governor wanted to run. He had been deliberating over the issue for a year. His team had begun backing legal documents for a potential bid. Senior staff members were starting to be recruited.
But in the end, his family had veto power, and when they wouldn’t agree to a campaign, he honored it. “Simply put, I find myself caught between two duties. I love my country; I love my family more,” Daniels wrote in an e-mail to supporters.
Some may think that this spells the end of Daniels’ future as a presidential candidate. Now 62, by 2016 he would be 67, at the higher end of the run-for-president age spectrum. Who knows in that election whether a policy wonk bent on fixing the budget but with less of an appetite for social issues would be as popular. And Daniels acknowledged the risks to his family-first, country-second decision in his sign-off letter, telling supporters “if you feel that this was a non-courageous or unpatriotic decision, I understand and will not attempt to persuade you otherwise.”
More than likely, this is Daniels’ last flirtation with the White House. But that doesn’t mean it should spell the end of Daniels’ future as a respected leader. At its heart, Daniels’ decision—a relatively rare one among ambitious pols who cajole hesitant spouses and children into higher public-office races—says a lot about his character as a leader. In a sense, what he’s doing is putting his own desires after those of the people he cares about the most. That’s not something many leaders can point to doing every day, but it’s an essential building block of leadership.
Daniels’ decision is even more remarkable given the levels of support that he had and the powerful voices that were whispering in his ear. It would be one thing if he were Trump, or Herman Cain, or some other third-tier presidential hopeful who said he would not be running, even though he wanted to, because his family didn’t want to enter the race. But this was Mitch Daniels, the white knight of the Republican establishment, a conservative hero in wonk’s clothing, held up as a savior from a second Obama term. From the chairman of the national Chamber of Commerce to multiple Republican governors, Daniels would have had to resist some very persuasive and powerful voices when he decided to say no.
Call me old fashioned, but that’s precisely why I think Daniels’ no-go on the campaign actually boosts his credibility as a leader. He was able to fend off the wishes of some pretty influential people to uphold his values. He put aside his own goals for others’. Some may decide to question his patriotism, but with regards to this decision, at least, his leadership bona fides look pretty solid in my view.
More from On Leadership: