When one hears the names Mitch Daniels, Mike Huckabee, and Donald Trump, cowardice is the last thing that comes to mind. These are men of great and admirable accomplishments, after all. Daniels and Huckabee each possess excellent leadership skills and solid conservative credentials, and Trump is a titan in his industry. Each is, in his own way, an outspoken and persuasive critic of President Obama, and until recently was considered a possible contender for the 2012 Republican presidential ticket.
Now that they are safely ensconced on the sidelines however, Daniels, Huckabee, and Trump have all expressed their confidence that – had they chosen to run and secured their party's nomination – they could have beaten the President.
Other than being self-serving, such behavior serves no useful purpose. It's easy, after all, to speculate about what might have been when you no longer have any real skin in the game. While the field of remaining GOP presidential hopefuls is busy making its case to the American people, those with nothing on the line are free to make the media rounds as conservative pundits-in-residence, offering their expert insight and analysis of this or that candidate, pontificating about his or her strengths and weaknesses and ultimate likelihood of securing the nomination.
While not commenting on the prospects of the remaining candidates directly, Mitch Daniels made his presumptive feelings about the chances of social conservatives clear when he said that the GOP should "mute" the debate on certain issues in favor of a focus on the economy. Huckabee seems intent on remaining in the spotlight with ambiguous statements about a possible vice-presidential run, allusions to the "toxic political environment" that prevented him from remaining in the race, and gloomy forecasts about the GOP's slim chances in 2012. And Trump? He's apparently so disgusted with the GOP's talent pool he's considering an alternative run on the Independent ticket.
This behavior is not helpful, and does nothing to advance the conservative cause against Mr. Obama. Undoubtedly, those who have chosen to withdraw from contention under the GOP banner have good reasons for doing so, but now that they are no longer contenders they should repair to the sidelines and allow the candidates still in the arena to conduct their own campaigns. As non-candidates, the voting public doesn't much care what they may think about their colleagues' qualifications and prospects for success.
If the meteoric rise of Barack Obama taught us anything, after all, it's that in politics anything is possible. In the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, Hillary Clinton was the odds-on favorite for the Democratic nomination; she was the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Barack Obama, for all his charm and charisma, was an inexperienced junior senator dismissed by the Clinton camp as an unlikely threat, a proverbial Don Quixote tilting at windmills. But Hillary counted her chickens too early: Obama tilted, and he won.
This should be a lesson to those tempted to call the score before the last shots have been taken. At this point there is simply no way to know for sure who will emerge as the GOP nominee, and unnecessary chatter from the sidelines will only serve to distract American people's attention from those who are actually in the arena.
The GOP needs unity now, not divisiveness and backbiting. Those who have removed themselves from the running should comport themselves with restraint so that those remaining in the fray have a fair chance to make their case for candidacy. In the end, the American people will decide who they wish to represent the Republican voice in the next election, and they should be left to make this important decision without input from the peanut gallery.