David Brooks: Let's face it, Mitch Daniels is likely to be the GOP nominee

He hath seen the crease in the man’s pants and pronounced it good.

Whitman is representative of an emerging Republican type — what you might call the austerity caucus. Flamboyant performers like Sarah Palin get all the attention, but the governing soul of the party is to be found in statehouses where a loose confederation of über-wonks have become militant budget balancers. Just as welfare reformers of the 1990s presaged compassionate conservatism, so the austerity brigades presage the national party’s next chapter.

Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana who I think is most likely to win the G.O.P. presidential nomination in 2012, is the spiritual leader. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is the rising star. Jeb Bush is the eminence. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Rob Portman, a Senate candidate in Ohio, also fit the mold…

Whitman has the personality type that you’re seeing more and more of these days. Not big picture, like Reagan. Not an idea volcano, like Gingrich. Not a straightforward man of faith, like George W. Bush. The quintessential New Republican is detail-oriented, managerial, tough-minded, effective but a little dry. If Whitman wins her race, she’ll fit right in.

I’d be mighty curious to hear Brooks describe Daniels’s path to the nomination. Social conservatives are famously influential in the Iowa caucuses — ask 2008 winner Mike Huckabee — and Daniels did himself no favors with them by famously calling for a truce on cultural issues until America’s finances are sorted out. So Iowa’s a lost cause. That leaves New Hampshire, which loves mavericky moderate dark horse candidates like Daniels. The only problem? Romney has the home field advantage and knows only too well that his own candidacy will live or die depending on the outcome there, so he’ll go all out — at any price — to win it. If he does, where does that leave Mitch? Gasping for life in South Carolina, another social con stronghold? If he’s serious about running, he’d better move to Concord tomorrow and start dumping on RomneyCare to anyone who’ll listen. That’s his only, and very long, shot.

Speaking of Romney, at 41/40, he’s running just one slim point behind Obama in Fox News’s new poll out today. Huckabee — the tea-party candidate? — trails 43/40 and Chris Christie lags at 42/30, mainly because many people don’t know who he is yet. As for Palin, it’s … 48/35, and she’s the only one of the big three who trails Obama among independents (by seven points). But never mind that; here’s the race we all want to see, and if Captain Wonderful manages to steer the economy back to 10 percent unemployment, we just might see it yet. The very thought of it, the sheer abundance of daily blogworthy content it would bring, makes me unsteady on my feet. Think about it, Hillary. America needs this.