“While none of the friends blamed Daniels for putting his family first, many saw irony in the situation, even noting that the man derided by some on the religious right for his so-called social issues ‘truce’ proposal was living by the ‘family values’ that conservative voters aspire to…

“Bell said the marriage stories were only one element of a bigger issue the Daniels’ confronted – namely what this would mean for the rest of their life.

“The marital history ‘was a short-term issue – they could deal with by saying they had a story to tell that I think most Americans could identify with, which is if you like a love story with a happy ending you’ll like ours,’ said Bell. ‘It was more if you run and you win your entire 60s are spent as President of the United States and the rest of your life is spent as the former President of the United States. To the family that changes everything.’

“Yet it’s unclear that the focus on their marriage would actually be ‘short-term.’ It was also unclear that the ‘happy ending’ of their lives together would answer the questions people had about the overall situation.

***
“A whisper campaign already making the rounds among political activists revealed how tough some of the scrutiny was going to be: What kind of first lady would leave her children at home for her husband to raise? Why did Mitch Daniels take her back?…

“Daniels’ own divorce lawyer has privately hinted to some Washington insiders that the particulars of the break-up were so messy that it would indeed be a problem if the two-term governor ran for president…

“Some supporters, including former John McCain aide Mark Salter, had urged Daniels to run regardless of his marital history, suggesting that it was virtually his duty to do so. In his statement to backers, Daniels acknowledged this sentiment, saying, ‘If I have disappointed you, I will always be sorry. If you feel that this was a non-courageous or unpatriotic decision, I understand and will not attempt to persuade you otherwise. I only hope that you will accept my sincerity in the judgment I reached.'”

***
“‘I can see him wanting to contribute to the cause but there is no timeline or shot clock’ for choosing a candidate to support, Indiana GOP Chairman Eric Holcomb told reporters on conference call Monday.

“Holcomb was asked several times if Daniels would consider being on the Republican ticket as a running mate. He downplayed the possibility, but added: ‘I am not going to take it off the table for him.'”

***
“One Daniels friend even suggested that the governor might be persuaded to reconsider his decision if his wife and daughters warm up to the idea of a campaign.

“‘This isn’t over yet,’ said the friend. ‘I don’t think some people will take ‘no’ for an answer.’…

“The Republican race remains so unsettled that most Daniels admirers say they won’t feel compelled to choose a candidate for some time. The sooner that point comes, the likelier it seems that the Indiana governor’s support will simply scatter across the top tier of the Republican presidential field, rather than coalescing around a single individual.”

***
“So even as the two chief Romney alternatives wake up Sunday morning and exalt about the cleaner shot they now have at the frontrunner, the oft-derided former Massachusetts governor also now faces a clearer path to the nomination.

“Without Daniels in the race, Romney at the moment faces no Republican who can put together as robust a fundraising network.

“That means Romney’s ‘long slog’ approach to the nomination is now much more realistic: without significant cash, who else can go the distance?

“He has tred carefully in Iowa so far, but there’s now one less Midwestern governor competing there. Should Pawlenty and a handful of other, more conservative candidates divide up the vote there that Huckabee won in 2008, Romney could win in a plurality, then capture New Hampshire and effectively wrap up the nomination. But even if a Pawlenty or a right-wing Republican takes the caucuses, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’d be formidable for the long haul delegate battle.”

***
“[T]here is a dangerous dynamic for Mr. Pawlenty — and perhaps also Mr. Huntsman and Mr. Romney — in that the chorus of conservatives who are dissatisfied with their field is only likely to grow louder. Mr. Pawlenty no longer has to compete directly against Mr. Daniels — but he still has to compete against the idea of Mr. Daniels, a candidate who perhaps was perceived as having somewhat more gravitas and who (because of his service in the George W. Bush administration) was more familiar to some within Washington. As a commenter at the conservative grass-roots blog RedState astutely noted, Mr. Daniels’ decision could give rise to a number of ‘unfounded myths of what a great candidate and president he would have been’.

“The remaining candidates, in essence, are still running against Mr. Daniels’ ghost. And ghosts don’t make gaffes, or post disappointing fundraising numbers, like real candidates do. I think Republicans have legitimate reason to worry about the strength of their field — but they have some candidates who would perform better than others against Mr. Obama. If those candidates are held to an impossible standard, the party’s electoral fortunes will not benefit.”

***
“GOP strategists say that the removal of Daniels as a factor has made it even more obvious that the contest is becoming one between presumed front-runner Mitt Romney and a pack of underdogs hoping to emerge as the alternative to the former Massachusetts governor…

“For all the Republican hand-wringing over the state of the race, there is one place where the strength of the potential field is not being discounted: the Obama White House…

“Said one adviser to the Obama reelection campaign, who spoke on the condition of anonymity: ‘Through the process of winning that nomination, they will achieve stature, and by the reality of having won that nomination, they will be competitive with the president at fundraising.’

“Added another: ‘Unless it’s Palin or Gingrich, we expect a very close race no matter who emerges.'”