Mitch Daniels Is Out — So Who Benefits?

Mitt Romney

Mitch Daniels’s decision not to seek the 2012 GOP presidential nomination set off yet another round of speculation as to who would benefit from his “non-candidacy.” We’ve been through this before with the “no-go” decisions of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and TV reality show host/real estate brander Donald Trump.  Daniels is the fourth to “no go.” 

The immediate beneficiary is former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  Had Daniels run, he would have drawn heavily (if not entirely) from the pool of voters Romney needs to win the nomination.  Anything that takes votes away from Romney is, by definition, bad for Romney.

Gov. Daniels, because he would have been well-financed and because he would have attracted heavyweight political support, was in fact a laser-guided missile aimed right at Romney’s campaign. Now that the missile has been disarmed, Romney’s chances of winning the nomination increase. 

In addition, the type of people who would have supported Gov. Daniels’ candidacy, with money or political support, are known in the investment business as “sophisticated investors.”  They don’t bet on long-shots.  They calculate (carefully) the risk/reward scenarios.  They put a premium on operational capability and professional management.  They bet with their heads, not with their hearts.

Their heads tell them that Mitt can’t win, unless he’s running against exceptionally weak opposition.  Guess what?  He’s running against exceptionally weak opposition.  So weak, in fact, that just three weeks ago the front-runner was Mike Huckabee, whom most of the heavy-hitters viewed as an excellent choice for…..vice president

Right now, the only things that stand between Mitt Romney and the GOP nomination are Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman.  That’s not exactly the Fearsome Foursome. It’s more like the cast from a Lifetime Movie.

One can write various scenarios as to how the departure of Mr. Daniels is beneficial to Mr. Gingrich or Mr. Pawlenty.  But you have to do a big stretch to get there.  The truth is that veteran GOP pols and fund-raisers are most comfortable with campaigns that are well-organised and disciplined.  That’s what they support.  That’s where they put their money.  That’s Romney, now and for the foreseeable future.