When Ernest Simpson was being cuckolded by King Edward VIII, a London revue had Simpson saying, “I regret that I have but one wife to give for my country.”
Well, it looks like Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is not going to sacrifice his wife to run for the presidency in 2012. The email in which the governor communicated his decision not to enter the race was, like Mitch himself, low-key: "I was able to resolve every competing consideration but one, but that, the interests and wishes of my family, is the most important consideration of all," he wrote in a message that was sent to supporters in the early morning hours of Sunday.
For the waiting-for-Mitch crowd (and I was a member), this was a blow. It appears that a strange marital back story derailed the candidacy: Daniels was apparently protecting the privacy of his wife Cheri, who in 1994 divorced Daniels, leaving him with four daughters to bring up alone, while she quickly married a surgeon in California. In 1997 Cheri wanted to return to Daniels, and he took her back. They remarried, but it is certainly not your average candidate’s picture perfect marriage.
While none of the saga makes Mrs. Daniels look particularly great, I believe it might actually have endeared Mitch to the so-called values crowd. In a way it demonstrates that the man who called for a truce on social issues is the same man who showed an uncommon fidelity to his marriage vows. You can’t do better when it comes to upholding family values. Admittedly Cheri doesn’t come off quite so well, but apparently she did have the humility to seek forgiveness and go home.
The sophisticates in the mainstream media wouldn’t have been able to get enough of the Daniels marriage. Adding insult to injury, they would have attempted to cloak their prurient interest by claiming it was an obligation to report incessantly on Cheri’s episode because the aforementioned values voters are likely to be turned off by the marriage. No doubt, they would have found some way to drag in hypocrisy—difficult as that might be this instance—because that is inevitably the justification for wall to wall coverage of Republican transgressions.
As a former gossip columnist, I am of two—at the very least two—minds about this scrutiny. Candidates and their spouses enter into a world where little is private. I am amused when a journalist such as Michelle Cottle of Newsweek writes a piece, as she did last week, ostensibly sympathizing with political spouses because they must endure dissection of everything from their beliefs to their make-up and then adds: “Memo to Callista Gingrich: lose the platinum helmet hair.” And, of course, we all know that there is a tendency for the press to be less kind to Republican spouses—often described as “Stepford Wives,” a designation Cheri’s interesting marital history would likely have spared her.
Although I winced when a 2007 profile in the Washington Post reported that Jheri Thompson, whose husband Fred was playing Hamlet with the notion of a White House bid, had some apparently unpaid, decades-old medical bills ($1,700) from her twenties—just the sort of thing you’d die over—I generally argue in favor of the press taking a good look at candidates and even, yes, the person who would have the honor of serving her country as first lady (or first dude). A person of ordinary rectitude who has the ability to develop the tough hide necessary for political life will do fine. Jheri Thompson, I am told, is thriving (and I bet, if the report was accurate, she quickly dashed off a check to cover those almost forgotten medical bills).
A reformed bolter, Cheri would have been irresistible, though. The press would undoubtedly have dug up details about the California marriage. It would not have been fun, at least not for Mrs. Daniels. “She wasn’t going to have all that garbage about her marriage brought up, and I can’t blame her,” a friend emailed me early Sunday morning. Oh, dear I am trying not to blame her. It would have been uncomfortable, and it might have been unfair, but she would have survived and there is a good chance she would have won the public over, too. After all, she got a great guy to marry her twice.
A marriage says a lot about the two parties and that the Daniels marriage endures speaks well of both of them ultimately. It could not have been easy to ask to be taken back. But it also speaks well of Daniels that he is not so consumed with ambition that he put Cheri in a spotlight she obviously fears. It is refreshing to have a political leader who values his family above his career. It reminds me of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s saying that he would not run in 2012 because “my kids are too small and my ego's not big enough." But here’s the bad news: these are just the guys we need in office, the ones who are loyal and decent and could make difficult decisions without a lot of fanfare.
Charlotte Hays is a senior fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum.