Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) disappointed some conservatives by announcing he is not running for president in 2012. But his decision didn't sadden everyone. Here's a rundown of who might gain — and who might lose — now that Thune's removed himself from the potential 2012 field:
"The most obvious beneficiary is former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty," says Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post. Pawlenty and Thune are both social conservative "happy warriors" from states that border Iowa, with "often-underestimated support among evangelicals." Without his stylistic and ideological doppelgänger in the running, Pawlenty has a better shot at winning Iowa, and the GOP nomination.
Thune was the one candidate that "genuinely" scared Democratic National Committee executive director Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, says Sam Stein in The Huffington Post. In a 2012 matchup against Obama, she recently said, "John Thune is somebody that I have nightmares about." Now that Thune's out, says Jack Stuef in Wonkette, we officially know "Obama's 2012 opponent will not be a youngish white guy," but yet "another old white guy. Good luck with that, Republicans."
The low-key South Dakotan was always a dark horse, says Christian Heinze in The Hill. But at 50, "he's still young, and in 2016, the party might have moved more toward a focus on electability, and less on volume of voice." Dropping out this year also "leaves the telegenic Thune in a great position to become the party's vice presidential nominee," says Kasie Hunt and Jonathan Martin in Politico. And if that fails, he's a good bet to become the new No. 2 Senate Republican when Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) retires.
If you look at the GOP nomination race as "a battle between Romney and not Romney," says David Frum in FrumForum, "Thune's departure helps Romney by removing a plausible candidate who is not Romney."
Taking out one of the viable "not Romney" votes could actually damage Mitt's chances, says Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post, since he "benefits from a large field" in which the "'not Romney' votes are divided among many opponents." In a small GOP field, the Tea Party and religious right can settle on one pick for their "strongest, electable conservative," and that guy just "isn't likely to be the man who pioneered the individual health-care mandate."
Mitch McConnell, and the Senate
The Senate minority leader publicly urged Thune to run in late January, though he stopped short of explicitly endorsing him. "I think John is an extraordinarily impressive individual," McConnell told MSNBC. "I hope he will run. I think he would make a great president of the United States." Thune's departure also means that for the first time in recent memory, no senator is running for president.
Thune's dropping out will also be "particularly disappointing" to the New York Times columnist, who gushed about Thune's tall, "tanned (in a prairie, sun-chapped sort of way)" good looks and "athletic grace" in a 2009 column urging him to run. I guess Thune was really only "considered a possible presidential candidate because he's hot," says Gawker. "Sorry ladies, and David Brooks!"
"Thune's interest in the presidency is clear," says Dan Balz in The Washington Post, but though his decision to skip 2012 "surprised almost no one," it may cost him his one shot at the White House. This year's field is relatively weak, and Thune is still his own man. But by 2016 he will be a solid part of the GOP leadership, and "history has not been kind to Senate insiders who seek the presidency."