Bill Whalen

Replacing Daniels in the Lion’s Den

And so the world didn’t come to an end this weekend, as some had prophesized, but the presidential speculation regarding Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels did.

He’s not running, and a lot of Republicans aren’t pleased with that decision and the choice of alternatives.

How does Daniels not entering the lion’s den affect the field of remaining GOP presidential hopefuls? Don’t think if it as “field” so much as a street. A street lined with houses – some old, some new, and some under construction.

And . . . one very large patch of real estate waiting to be developed.

If you’re looking to develop that site, the design specs would look something like this: popular governor, good reform record in his home state, meets with the approval of Reagan/Bush alumni/donors, ready to attack the President on healthcare/debt/spending/Israel.

That was the sweet spot Daniels occupied going into the weekend. Not coincidentally, it resembled the pole position occupied by George W. Bush when he secured the Republican nomination in 2000: a can-do governor with a mountain of early money.

In two weeks, the Republican hopefuls gather in New Hampshire for a televised debate. Let’s assume former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, now solidly established as the media’s anointed frontrunner, makes an appearance.

In the meantime, here are three potential candidates to fill that empty lot on Republican Lane.

  1. Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Like Daniels in 2008, Perry swept his way to re-election last fall. Pro-life voters in Iowa will be interested to hear about his signing a new Texas law requiring women to undergo pre-abortion sonograms. And he can boast of a strong Lone Star economy. Two potential strikes against a Perry candidacy: is America ready for another Texas governor; and can he tap into the Reagan/Bush dollar network given the rift with Bush 43?
  2. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Let’s take the argument a step further: if American can accept the man who holds the job once held by George W. Bush before he became ‘Bush 43”, is it willing to accept the former president’s younger brother? With Daniels’ out, the door is open for a candidate with Bush’s resume. But is he happy for now, focusing on education reform?
  3. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Here are two reasons why he’s worth a mention: (a) if that lot remains empty by Labor Day, the greater the temptation for Christie to enter late into the race (cue the draft talk); (b) he’s on good speaking terms with Roger Ailes, which means he already has access to one the brightest minds at the intersection of media and politics.
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