NPR logo Post-Mitch Daniels, GOP Nomination Fight Still Looks Bloody

Post-Mitch Daniels, GOP Nomination Fight Still Looks Bloody

What was a 2012 dream matchup for some, President Obama versus Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels won't happen. But a fierce GOP nomination fight seems guaranteed. Charles Dharapak/AP hide caption

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Charles Dharapak/AP

What was a 2012 dream matchup for some, President Obama versus Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels won't happen. But a fierce GOP nomination fight seems guaranteed.

Charles Dharapak/AP

Republicans who would rather Mitt Romney not get the GOP presidential nomination appear to be running out of options.

With Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels taking himself out of contention over the weekend for family reasons Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, has less to worry from a new and credible opponent who could have drawn money and key campaign personnel away from him.

The same holds true for two other former governors, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, who officially announced Sunday and Monday he was in the race, and Jon Huntsman of Utah who's still unofficial. They need not worry now about a Daniels siphon effect.

As for the other candidates, announced or potential, including Newt Gingrich, the former speaker, or members of Congress Ron Paul or Michele Bachmann, no to mention Herman Cain, they're such long shots, Daniels' decision to remain out of the race doesn't mean much one way or another.

The national polls indicate Romney is the frontrunner which, in part, is because he came in second in the race for the GOP nomination in 2008.

But his weaknesses as a candidate for the Republican nomination have led many in the party to yearn for an alternative. Among his supposed failings are that he signed into law in Massachusetts health care legislation that was the model for the national law Obama signed, making him a flawed messenger to attack the law Republicans call "Obamacare"

He also has, fairly or not, gotten a reputation over the years as inconsistent on key issues like abortion rights which he earlier supported as a candidate for governor but later came to oppose, in time to be able to sell himself to his party's social conservatives as an anti-abortion candidate.

The desire for someone other than Romney or the other possibilities in the field was the fertile soil from which the Daniels boomlet grew.

Daniels was a conservative deficit hawk who impressed many by using the power the Indiana constitution gives to cut government spending. That kept Indiana from going as deep into the hole during the recession as other states.

He solidified his appeal to social conservatives by recently signing legislation to bar Planned Parenthood in the state from receiving any tax payer dollars because, among its womens' health services, it provides abortions.

But a Daniels candidacy would have provided Democrats with opportunities as well.

For instance, Democrats have and would have continued to argue that Daniels was President George W. Bush's chief federal budget planner as director of the Office of Management and Budget when the Bush tax cuts contributed to budget surpluses becoming deficits.

Democrats have also long blamed Daniels for significantly underestimating the financial costs of the Iraq War.

Meanwhile, Daniels doesn't exactly cut quite the tall and dashing figure of a say a Romney or a Huntsman.

As the National Journal's Alex Roarty wrote:

That conservatives considered a 5-foot-7, 60-something, balding budget wonk one of their best chances to defeat President Obama is a testament to the pessimism many Republicans feel about their crop of presidential hopefuls.

For all his budget bona fides, Daniels was still unknown and untested nationally. Only 35 percent of Republicans knew who he was, according to the latest Gallup poll, and unlike Romney, he had never faced the scrutiny reserved for front-running presidential candidates. An array of legislative achievements in Indiana also wouldn't erase the stark contrast he would face when shaking hands with the more telegenic, much taller Obama.

With a frontrunner who many Republicans find unpalatable, the risk for Republicans is that their party becomes a months-long, running violation of Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment that "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican."

Even if Daniels had entered the race, the contest for the nomination promised to be fierce since Romney appears to really believe he should be president at least as much as many in his party really believe he shouldn't.

Daniels not entering the race just means there'll be one less combatant in the free-for-all that is the Republican nomination fight.

That could very well result in a very damaged nominee if Romney eventually wins the prize. That could make him far easier pickings for an incumbent president who hopes to have $1 billion to spend on his re-election efforts and apparently will be leading a unified party.

If you're the Obama's campaign team sitting in Chicago, that kind of internecine bloodying of Romney the frontrunner is exactly the outcome you're hoping for.