On Cynicism, Mitch Daniels, and the Thin Republican Field

Mitch Daniels, the former Bush administration Office of Management and Budget director and current governor of Indiana, has decided not to seek the Republican nomination for President in 2012. Many Republicans saw him as a viable candidate in a weak field, yet Daniels has decided to join former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who would himself have been one of the top tier candidates had he chosen to run, on the sidelines.

What could possibly induce some of the GOP’s top Presidential prospects to sit idly by while a field that includes Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann, and Sarah Palin seeks Presidential gold?

The Republican Party’s growing insanity. Or growing detachment from reality, if you want a more neutral term. Jacob Weisberg lays out the case that the Republicans are growing ever more removed from the real world, and Steve Benen notes that there’s no sign of the GOP coming back to Earth any time soon.

And I think that some of the top GOP prospects, like Huckabee and Daniels, realize that, even if their absense has led to wailing from the punditocracy.

To garner the middle-of-the-road types, they would have to accept and promote reality to a certain degree. But in a party that has rejected reality, like the need to raise the debt ceiling to prevent default, a reality-based candidate is at a severe disadvantage.

But there’s a more cynical reason, too.

Let’s suppose, for a moment, that the GOP forces a national debt default. In the view of the Republican leadership, like Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan, the United States defaulting wouldn’t be a bad thing, even though every economist says that a default of even a day or two would be catastrophic for the world economy. Not only would the United States lose its creditworthiness, but the fragile economic recovery would be torpedoed as a result. If a brief default didn’t plunge the economy into outright depression, eclipsing the downturn that began three years ago, it would at the very least push the economy back into recession.

And what Republican candidate would want to clean up the economic chaos that his own party had unleashed by refusing the raise the debt ceiling?

Andrew Sullivan may have wanted a race between two adults, but what Republican in his right might would want to take on the difficult task of fixing all toys his party broke?

For a candidate like Daniels, sitting out 2012 makes sense. It clears the field for an increasingly deranged and reactionary GOP to nominate a fringe candidate who is unlikely to win the White House, which would give President Obama four more years to clean up after the political and economic wreckage of the GOP, which also pushes the memories of that wreckage further and further down the memory hole.

With the Republican base running away from the difficult decisions on revenues and climate change, a Republican president who was forced by temperament or circumstances to confront him would become vastly unpopular in his own party. The Republican Party, as it is constituted today, isn’t made for leading. It’s made for opposing.

Thus, for a top tier Republican like Daniels, a 2012 run makes zero sense.

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