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Mitch’s Mighty Mouse dilemma

Posted: February 28, 2012 11:04 a.m.
Updated: February 29, 2012 5:00 a.m.

If Republicans are holding off for their Mighty Mouse moment, then they may be waiting for awhile. For those unfamiliar with the classic cartoon, Mighty Mouse is a heroic rodent in yellow and red tights who would take to the sky to the tune of “Here I come to save the day!”

As it stands now, Mitt Romney is still the party’s front-runner and the likely nominee.

Ron Paul has virtually no chance of making it to November, Gingrich is looking more like a one-hit South Carolina wonder, and Santorum’s performance in last Wednesday’s debate showed he may never be a ready-for-primetime candidate.

A few names have been tossed around as the proverbial “white knight” who could enter the race at the last minute and be the darling of the conservative movement.

Of the all the names being mentioned, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels seems to top that list.

U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint recently picked Daniels as the only outside candidate who could come to the Republican convention in August as a potential nominee. The only disqualifier in DeMint’s mind was that he didn’t think Daniels’ wife would let it happen.

As John Ward of the Huffington Post hypothesized last May, Daniels’ marriage seems to remain the last hurdle for his White House bid.

That history begins in 1994 when Daniels and his wife Cheri filed for divorce. Not too unusual a story for a political cycle that has been marred by Herman Cain’s sexual harassment charges and the chronicling of Gingrich’s three marriages.

Soon after the divorce, however, she moved to California, leaving Daniels behind with their four daughters, aged 8 to 14, and married a doctor. She then divorced again and moved back to Indiana where she remarried Daniels in 1997. 

As Ward notes, much remains unknown about the couple’s marital background.  

“Why did she leave Daniels? Why did she come back? That she would be reluctant to publicly answer such delicate questions in front of the nation seems only natural,” he writes.  

Voters may not mind learning more about that part of Daniels’ past if he decides to jump into the race. But it would likely raise some eyebrows, particularly among the social conservatives who make up one of the most powerful voting blocks for the Republican Party. It would also be easy fodder for any rival campaign.    

Daniels, however, would have more consequential problems with which to deal. First, few people know who he is. Romney and Santorum have been officially campaigning since last summer and have spent countless hours talking with voters, participating in nationally televised debates, and being profiled in seemingly every newspaper and magazine.      

But as New York Times columnist David Brooks opined in his February 2011 column “Run Mitch Run,” Daniels “couldn’t match Obama in grace and elegance, but he could on substance.”

That’s what many voters seem to believe the current field lacks, particularly with Romney. He’s not necessarily considered a poor speaker, but seems to lack the convictions and the heart someone like Daniels may possess. 

This so-called substance supposedly stems from Daniels’ knowledge of the economy and consistency on fiscal issues. As governor of Indiana, he presided over the state’s first balanced budget in almost a decade. The Hoosier State also garnered its first-ever AAA bond rating under Daniels.

But as George W. Bush’s first budget director, he oversaw a major drop in the country’s budget from a $236 billion surplus to a $400 billion deficit. He was also budget director when President Bush launched tax cuts that totaled $2.7 trillion in lost revenue and a Medicare drug benefit plan that now costs taxpayers $60 billion a year.

In a race where perceived inconsistencies are seemingly harped on more than ever (think of Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan), Daniels would likely face harsh criticism over his time as the man in charge of the Bush administration’s budget.

But what’s really the likelihood that Daniels will swoop in and become the Republican Party’s nominee for 2012? Former Bush adviser Karl Rove may have put it best in an op-ed last week for the Wall Street Journal: “the odds are probably greater that there’s life on Pluto.”

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