Will Mitch Daniels's Personal Life Hurt His 2012 Chances?

The potential 2012 GOP contender does not have the storybook marriage candidates wants to portray.

By + More

There are a whole lot of people who are waiting on Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to decide if he is going to enter the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

With Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour—a former chairman of the Republican National Committee—officially out of the race, Daniels has become the preferred candidate of the so-called GOP establishment, especially many of the former Bush 41 and Bush 43 types who are itching to get back into the White House.

[Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP candidates.]

Daniels has a lot to commend him. He has a lot of experience running large organizations. As a former director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, he understands how government works like only an insider who once held the federal purse strings can. And he’s done a good job as governor of Indiana.

He also has a lot to give conservatives pause. In the run-up to his announcement, it seems as though he has gone out of his way to pick fights with important parts of the Republican primary coalition, especially the prolifers, who can, by themselves, make or break a candidate. But he’s also gotten crossways with the supporters of right-to-work and the antitax movements, an inauspicious start for a guy who may want to be the next Republican nominee. [Vote now: Who is your pick for the 2012 GOP nomination?]

There is, however, another issue—one that hasn’t been talked about much over the last few months but which is certain to come to the fore over the next couple of days. And it’s going to come to the fore because, a GOP source who follows presidential politics closely tells me, the people who want Daniels to enter the race are going to put it there.

Many years ago Daniels and his wife divorced. She left him and their children behind in Indianapolis to move out west, where she married another man. The second marriage didn’t last, and the governor and his wife are, to all indications, now happily married once again. Nevertheless, it’s not exactly the kind of storybook romance most candidates prefer to portray their marriages as being.

The plan to get this all out in the open is both an effort to inoculate the potential campaign through full disclosure and to provide the opportunity to gauge just how Republican primary voters—especially women—will react to the idea of a Daniels candidacy once all the details are made public.

It’s a risky strategy. Risky, that is, unless you are prepared to hear bad news. But it has to be done because the people who want to keep Barack Obama in the White House—many of whom said sex didn’t matter when it was Bill Clinton who was doing it—are going to run a slash-and-burn campaign against whichever Republican wins the GOP nomination to face off against Barack Obama next November. They know they can’t win on policy, so they are going to make it very, very personal.

  • Vote now: Who is your pick for the 2012 GOP nomination?
  • Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the GOP 2012 candidates.
  • Follow the money in Congress.
  • Get the latest Washington news delivered to your inbox.