Waiting for Mitch

at 01:04 PM ET, 05/06/2011


Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels is consideing a run for president in 2012. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
The political world is waiting on Mitch Daniels.

The Indiana Republican governor has said he will make up his mind about the 2012 presidential race “within weeks”. But, where exactly is Daniels’ mind on the race?

Conflicting signals are everywhere.

On the one hand, Daniels came to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington to give a speech on education reform this week, a classic move for a contender. On the other, the speech was slow and slideshow-dependent(!) — not exactly the trademarks of a candidate about to plunge into the presidential waters.

On the one hand, Daniels says the fact that it’s not too late for him to get into the race is a “happy surprise”. On the other, he admitted that he’s “probably not” ready to debate President Obama on foreign policy.

Daniels’ indecision and seemingly contradictory public statements are in keeping with his long-cultivated image as the reluctant politician constantly dragged into the public arena by the size of the challenges the country faces.

That idea, coupled with Daniels’ willingness to make a deep policy dive on spending and debt issues, should position him well should he decide to run.

If Daniels truly has to be dragged into the race kicking and screaming, however, it could be a recipe for disaster. One needs only look as far back as 2008 to find an example of how poorly reluctant candidates fare; former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson got into the GOP presidential race late, never seemed like he wanted to be there and dropped out without winning a single primary or caucus.

No matter what Daniels decides, it will be a major turning point in the race. If he runs, Daniels is a top-tier candidate. If he doesn’t, it’s a near-certainty that other candidates — Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, anyone? — get into the race.

Below is our Line of the ten people most likely to win the Republican nomination next year. Who’s ranked too high? Too low? The comments section awaits!

Coming off the Line: Haley Barbour

Coming onto the Line: Donald Trump

10. Donald Trump: The Donald certainly sounds like a candidate, telling Bloomberg recently that “in my mind I’ve already decided”. The threshold Trump has to cross to be taken seriously — if that’s still possible — is to prove that he wants to run to actually be president not simply to provide more fuel for his fame machine. Nothing he has done since entering the 2012 conversation — from his focus on birtherism as his central issue to a limousine tour around New Hampshire — suggests seriousness. Still, he is well known and rich so he could well emerge as the ultimate pot-stirrer if he decides to run. (Previous ranking: N/A)

9. Rick Santorum: The former Pennsylvania senator was forced to defend his own electability in Thursday night’s presidential debate, a reminder that his massive loss in a 2006 Senate race has not been forgotten. Even if he’s the most seasoned of the lower-tier candidates, he’s still squarely in that lower tier. Santorum’s willingness to be the attack dog against both President Obama and his fellow contenders might draw headlines, but it also reinforces his image as a polarizing figure. Still if social conservatives are looking for a “pure” candidate, Santorum might be their guy. (Previous ranking:10)

8. Jon Huntsman: Now that Huntsman has formally resigned as the U.S. Ambassador to China and returned to the U.S., his plans to run for president are likely to move more out into the open. What Huntsman has is charisma, personal money and quality staff in both early states and nationally. Unfortunately for his supporters, Huntsman also has a resume that includes working for President Obama and advocating moderate positions on energy and civil unions that may be hard to explain to the Republican base. Huntsman’s candidacy is intriguing but unformed at the moment. (Previous ranking: 9)

7. Michele Bachmann: More and more, it’s hard to ignore the Minnesota congresswoman’s potential impact – especially in the Iowa caucuses. Opposing campaigns are trying to raise expectations, saying they fully expect her to do win in the Hawkeye State given her appeal to tea partiers and social conservatives not to mention the fact that she was born in Waterloo. The question is even if Bachmann wins Iowa can she put together a real enough campaign to build on whatever momentum she can gather? Given her history of staff turnover and her lack of stature in the Republican Party —she’s a back-bencher in the House and doesn’t havemany big-name allies — that’s a completely valid question. (Previous ranking: 7)

6. Sarah Palin: The former Alaska governor seems to be more and more of an afterthought these days, especially with Trump’s big entrance onto the political scene. The fact is that either of them would stand little chance in a general election — a recent Quinnipiac poll showed 58 percent of people saying they would never vote for Palin or Trump. At the same time, what Palin has that Trump doesn’t is actual conservative bona fides and a record of running for and winning elected offices. She may still have an impact on the Republican presidential primary, but there’s a distinct chance she doesn’t run and, even if she does, she has work to do to build herself up into a top-tier contender again. (Previous ranking: 6)

5. Newt Gingrich: It seems that Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, has finally untangled his business interests enough to formally launch a presidential campaign. Advisers say he will be in the race next week. Gingrich has to find a way to cast himself as something other than the old face of the GOP if he wants to capi­tal­ize on his name identification and big brain in this race. (Previous ranking: 4)

4. Mitch Daniels: It’s not complicated — if Daniels runs, he’s a serious contender for the nomination. The central question: Does he have the heart/stomach to withstand the grind of running for president in the modern era? (Previous ranking: 8)

3. Mike Huckabee:After months of signal-sending that he would not run for president, it looks like the former Arkansas governor might be getting in the race after all. He held a fundraiser in Washington this week. He’s on top in most polls, including those in the all-important state of Iowa. He’s well-known and well-liked. Can Huckabee put the money and the organization together to get beyond where he finished in 2008? His recent behavior suggests he’s going to try. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. Tim Pawlenty: As more and more big-name candidates pass on the race, the former Minnesota governor’s stock keeps rising. He is one of the biggest beneficiaries of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s decision not to run and, if Daniels decides against the race, Pawlenty will look even more like the strongest alternative to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Pawlenty’s performance in Thursday night’s debate wasn’t a game-changer (and was uneven at certain points) but he still came across as the most electable candidate on the stage. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. Mitt Romney: The former Massachusetts governor is running as the un-candidate at the moment. Romney no-showed at Thursday night’s debate and has been a very low-key presence on the campaign trail. In many ways, Romney’s 2012 campaign is an answer to his own 2008 campaign when he got into the race very early and spent much of his time either a) going to events in early states or b) talking about the process by which he could win the nomination. All of that process talk is gone now as Romney, at least in the early going, is talking almost exclusively about the economy in policy-driven events. (Previous ranking: 1)

With Aaron Blake and Rachel Weiner

 
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