Haley Barbour is out!

Among other things, this is a reminder that we need a better vocabulary to announce these decisions. Is the news that Barbour “won't run,” as Politico’s Ben Smith has it (similarly, the Post’s Rachel Weiner says he “will not run “)? That formulation implies that, having considered it, he’s chosen against mounting a campaign. Or has he already run a campaign — and lost? Jonathan Chait has him “out “ and says he “isn’t running,” which I think is a more neutral way of putting it. But one might also say that he’s dropped out, or even that he’s been winnowed out. If I had to speculate, I’d say that’s probably what happened — Barbour ran a campaign during the current invisible primary period, and when his candidacy was going nowhere, he put an end to it. But as I said, that’s speculation; maybe he really did discover that he didn’t want to do it.

The reason the vocabulary matters is that it implies different things about the nomination process: Are large fields mainly winnowed by party elites (defined very broadly to include, for example, activists and low-level donors)? Or are they mainly winnowed by the voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and then the remaining primaries and caucuses? My view is that most of the important winnowing is happening now; as a result, I like Josh Putnam’s terminology about candidates who may be running for 2012 whether or not they wind up running in 2012. That would include Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee — and Barbour, and John Thune, among others — as candidates in this cycle, whether or not they wind up choosing to enter the primaries and caucuses.

It also means that, properly speaking, we should probably think of Haley Barbour not as a potential candidate who didn’t run after all, but as a candidate who ran and lost, albeit one who (if that is correct) was smart enough to get out as cleanly as possible.