The 2012 campaign season is still in its infancy, and like an infant, it's still basically making gurgling sounds, spitting up its food and seeking out any welcoming teat with its grabby hands. But yesterday, for the first time, someone caught up in the 2012 media cycle stepped up and made an intelligent decision. That person? Mike Pence, who told the world that he would not be running for president in 2012.
"In the choice between seeking national office and serving Indiana in some capacity, we choose Indiana," Pence, R-Columbus, said of himself and wife Karen in a letter being sent to supporters. "We will not seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012."
While Matt Yglesias has frequently pointed out to the world that Mike Pence is a bear of little brain, I think even he can appreciate the intelligence of this decision. You see, any time you get a crowded slate of residential nominees, the field breaks down into three categories. First, you have the de facto frontrunners, men and women of significant stature with a legit shot at the office. Second, you have one or two fringe candidates who lack the stature and the shot, but who can be reliably counted on to say interesting and provocative things that can rattle the frontrunners and inspire some voters to do some outside-the-box thinking. This latter group may never succeed in their presidential ambitions, but they can grow some mindgrapes of a different variety and thus influence the debate in a significant way (e.g. Ron Paul).
But then, you get this middling group of dudes who have amassed a certain stature in their party that kinda-sorta makes them feel compelled to run for President, but who neither challenge the primacy of the frontrunners nor say anything even remotely interesting. These guys fade in the face of the frontrunners and steal time from the dark horses. Think about all those Democratic primary debates you watched where you saw Chris Dodd standing there and you thought, "I understand how this is happening, but I'll be damned if I can tell you why this is happening."
(Occasionally you get someone running for president who's doesn't have stature or anything interesting to say. This is a condition I call "being Jim Gilmore.")
Pence pretty neatly falls into the third category. As a former chairman of the House Republican Conference, he's a big enough cheese in the GOP to get on teevee reliably and make his views known. And those views? Pretty similar to generic Republican positions! He's famously described himself as "a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order," and as such he likes Jesus and tax cuts and neocon wars, like everyone else in the GOP. So he'd have been destined to stand on a stage with Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, affably agreeing with them, begging voters to consider his hairstyle.
Instead of wasting everyone's time with that, he'll instead probably seek Indiana's governorship, and seems likely to fare pretty well in that effort. Once he's got a gubernatorial term under his belt, he'll actually then have an item in his portfolio that can possibly elevate him out of the boring group of candidates into the upper echelon. The current zeitgeist in political candidacies is to favor governors and mayors over Capitol Hill legislators because they spend their time "managing" things and less time "amassing a record of legislation that can be faulted in any number of ways." Being the governor of Indiana is already doing wonders for Mitch Daniels -- I mean, relative to other people named Mitch Daniels.
And even if Pence fell into a preemptive also-ran category of would-be nominees, he can take some satisfaction in the fact that he got the media to spend an afternoon in rapt "sus-Pence" over his political future. In fact, my favorite detail from yesterday's Pence-fest is the one highlighted by Jim Newell at Gawker: the National Journal went so far as to call Pence's mother, seeking to know what Pence was thinking. I wonder how long it takes a reporter to wash that off!