Haley Barbour remains one of the most fascinating characters in American politics. He is the quintessential insider, political operative, lobbyist — but above all he is a hard-nosed pro, hard-nosed and smart enough to make Karl Rove look like his intern. So today Barbour did what many analylsts (including me) expected he’d do: he looked at the cards in his hand, saw what he had and didn’t have and made a realistic decision.
He won’t run for President:
“This has been a difficult personal decision, and I am very grateful to my family for their total support of my going forward, had that been what I decided,” the Mississippi governor said in a statement.
“A candidate for president today is embracing a 10-year commitment to an all-consuming effort, to the virtual exclusion of all else,” Barbour added. “His (or her) supporters expect and deserve no less than absolute fire in the belly from their candidate. I cannot offer that with certainty, and total certainty is required.”
Barbour’s announcement stunned political insiders — just hours earlier, many expected him to meet his self-imposed deadline and enter the race by the end of April. The decision was “surprising to say the least,” said GOPAC chairman and longtime Republican insider Frank Donatelli. “He would have been a very credible candidate with a strong record and access to campaign funds. … His withdrawal leaves a vacuum for someone else.”
Stunned? The signs were there: a)he is an inside in a year of Tea Party dominance, b)his southern accent might not play well if he ran against Barack Obama, c)he is not exactly made for television, d)some of his past gaffes on race-related issues would have come back to haunt him, e)he has not exactly been doing rip-roaring well in the polls (but a guy with bad hair who’s into polariziation is).
But, The Politico notes, there could have been another big reason:
Political watchers were quick to speculate that Barbour’s move may increase the likelihood that Mitch Daniels — Indiana governor and Barbour’s close friend — will indeed run, despite little recent campaign activity on his part. Both had indicated in the past that they did not want to run against each other. But Daniels has continued to sound wary about the race and would face many of the same challenges that Barbour would have encountered — including a spouse who is not eager to embark on a national campaign.
Barbour aides didn’t have anything to add about his decision. “He decided not to run” is all nephew and political hand Henry Barbour said. A Barbour spokesman declined to comment.
Another Barbour confidant offered only that “he’s an incredibly smart guy who is going to be a huge presence in the party for a long time. While this decision takes out an experienced conservative candidate, I still think we have a great shot at defeating President [Barack] Obama.”
But make no mistake about it: Barbour will remain a potent power behind the scenes in the GOP. The question now will be whether he aligns with the Karl Rove segment of the party or the Tea Party or Donald Trump.
Adds Andrew Sullivan, at his new digs on The Daily Beast:
And Barbour reinforces all the reasons the GOP has alienated so many independents: an anti-government party also up to its neck in corporate lobbyists; and a party so regionally fixated it is close to becoming a cultural, identity-politics ghetto rather than a national party offering national policy proposals. Barbour simply isn’t presidential material. And at this rate, the GOP debates will be the worst advertizing and branding the party will get since … Bobby Jindal responded to Barack Obama.
SOME OTHER VIEWPOINTS:
—The Huffington Post:
Barbour, a fiscal and social conservative and an accomplished fundraiser, would have been a formidable contender had he entered the race. But his hurdles to the GOP nomination would have been high, too. He’s a former lobbyist and former Republican National Committee chairman who would have tried to woo a GOP primary electorate that’s underwhelmed by Washington insiders.
Not that this should surprise you. I never expected him to run, because there are probably far too many skeletons in his closet and he’s one of the best fundraisers the GOP has. He’s set up a state network that was very effective in 2010, and will be best utilized by Republicans continuing to raise money behind the scenes.
Gov. Barbour’s combination of folksy populism and gravitas, and his matchless rolodex as 1994 RNC chairman and 2010 RGA chairman – the two greatest years for GOP candidates across the country in a long time – would have made him a formidable entrant into the race. He had his weaknesses as a candidate too, which are moot now; the point is that a fully committed Barbour would have been a factor. Perhaps we should have suspected this was coming when his right-hand man at RGA, Nick Ayers, instead signed up for the Pawlenty campaign.
The roster of candidates who are genuinely serious GOP contenders – especially if you look at who has won a statewide election some time in the past decade – remains limited. All eyes will now turn to the people who remain on the fence (Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels, Mike Huckabee) or denying they’re interested (Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan) to see who else might round out the field. In particular, the field now seems especially thin on Southerners for a party with so many officeholders in the region.
There’s still plenty of time to jump in; there’s perhaps less time now to hire staff and raise money. It’s early still; but as Yogi Berra said, it gets late early out there.
Now Barbour has announced he isn’t running. Order is restored to the universe. Republicans can go about nominating a candidate who’s either crazy enough to satisfy the grassroots, electable enough to satisfy the elites, or ideally (from their point of view) both. Barbour was neither. His candidacy made no sense.
The GOP is having a seemingly tough time finding a viable candidate at this point in the game. It’s been quite a sideshow with “The Donald” as the ringleader using his prime time network show to campaign on.
Haley Barbour smartly bowed out of 2012 today. There’s anti-Palin crusanders… At the rate things are going Romney might be the GOP’s only candidate with some reasonable sanity and political experience. There’s like to be more “anyone but whoever” websites poopping up in the months ahead. Stay tuned…
Mr. Barbour’s announcement was sure to touch off a new round of speculation about the political future of Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, who is a close friend and is also considering entering the race. Mr. Daniels has said that he intends to make a decision next month, after the Indiana Legislature adjourns this week.
It remains an open question where Mr. Barbour’s supporters will go – or if he will try to direct them to one specific candidate – but his decision could help other contenders like Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, who is also trying to build support from governors across the country.
The news by Mr. Barbour, delivered in a five-paragraph statement on Monday afternoon, came as something of a surprise to the political establishment. Yet there were clues to those who had watched him closely in recent weeks. Last month, he said that he had lost 20 pounds and intended to lose 20 more by the end of April.
But nine days ago, after he finished speaking at a Republican county convention in Lexington, S.C., Mr. Barbour grabbed a doughnut before heading for the door. He had not been seen doing that – in public, at least – for months.
Personally, I never saw a path to victory for Barbour, not with his his love for the Confederate flag and his long history as a lobbyist. But for a while, I had imagined that Barbour had conned himself into thinking he could win. I guess reality – namely, the reality that he’d be trading a cushy retirement for the rigors of the campaign trail with a limited chance at winning – won out.
Now speculation will turn to who else in the GOP field Barbour’s absence benefits most. Is it Mike Huckabee, who probably has the greatest regional appeal in the South? Tim Pawlenty, who, like Barbour, has managed to fool the Beltway into thinking he’s “reasonable”? Someone else entirely? Please share your best guesses in comments.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.