I was this far from running.
One of the recurring tropes of American presidential politics is the Hamlet figure; a man (or woman, though it's usually a man) who plays the part of the reluctant candidate, adored by the media and by the power-brokers of his party, but who is too refined, too intellectual and too sensitive to make the leap into crude retail politicking. He thus strikes a hesitant, agonised pose on the sidelines, torn between duty to country and the desire to stay at home and read Montaigne. In the 1980s, Mario Cuomo performed this role for the Democrats. Obama was all set to play it in 2007/8 before, rather disconcertingly for everyone, he leapt in with both feet. Fred Thompson (kind of) played it for the GOP that same year.
This year, it was Mitch Daniels, the Republican governor of Indiana, generally considered to have done a good job there, and a man of famous intellectual heft. After many months of hinting that he wanted to run but didn't want to run (etc), this month he finally declared himself out. Personally, I thought he was an impressive figure and I was quite hoping he'd go for it, if only to force the other candidates to raise their debating game - and there's also the potential amusement factor of seeing a fastidious intellectual stoop to conquer - but there were a couple of things about the manner of his leaving that made me respect him less. First, the way he blamed his family for it:
But after weeks of deliberating in public and making clear that his wife and four daughters had deep reservations — caused in part by the knowledge that they would be exposed to intensive scrutiny over a period in the 1990s when Mr. Daniels and his wife, Cheri, divorced and then remarried — he said he was unsuccessful in swaying his family. In a statement on Sunday he said, “Our family constitution gives a veto to the women’s caucus, and there is no override provision.”
Well ho ho ho. This is the kind of joke that political insiders will applaud even as they wipe away a tear, but to me, it seems, well, unmanly. Having decided not to run (for whatever reason) he surely ought to take full responsibility for that decision rather than say 'Well, I'd love to but you know, 'er indoors...'
Second, this, from today:
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has taken himself out of the running for president, but he says he believes he could have defeated President Barack Obama for a second term. “Yes, I think so,” Daniels said when asked whether he could have beaten Obama on ABC’s “This Week.”
It's a little unseemly to back out of a race and then go around boasting about how you totally could have won if you'd wanted to. In fact it's positively Trumpian. In the same interview Daniels expanded on the 'They stopped me from reaching my destiny' excuse:
“We've got young women, three of them that have been married not too long,” Daniels said. “They're looking forward to building lives, starting families and this was just a - a disruption that - that they were very, very leery of. And who wouldn't understand that?”
We're used to the 'I've got young children and I don't want to disrupt their childhoods' story. But to worry about the effect on your adult daughters? It reminds me of the old joke about a lawyer who is approached by a very, very old married couple about getting a divorce. He gently wonders why they've left it so long. 'Well, we wanted to wait until the children had died.'