Should we care that Mitch Daniels’ wife left him in 1993, filed for divorce, moved to California, married another man, then divorced that man and returned to Indiana, where she married Mitch again in 1997?Actually, it doesn’t matter whether we care or not, because today the story is already churning through the media pipeline. There’s no privacy in politics, not in our 24/7 info-frenzy; the wall that once separated the private from the public is now a sheet of glass. And that’s why Cheri Daniels has been so hesitant in the first place to signed off on a Mitch Daniels presidential bid.The Republicans’ supposed Great White Hope won’t come to the rescue unless or until his wife says yes. Her wariness seems understandable. Regardless of whether it’s relevant that a fiscally conservative governor had an unconventional marital history two decades ago – and we could debate this issue ad nauseum – rest assured that probing questions will be asked and the very human details will spill forth.In fact, the process has already begun, even though Mitch Daniels hasn’t even said whether he’s running. From this morning’s Washington Post: “In exchange for anonymity, an official for another GOP prospect provided contact information for the ex-wife of the man Cheri Daniels married, in the years between her divorce and remarriage to Daniels.” Got that? Cheri Daniels (whose private life was barely a blip on the screen 12 hours ago) was married in California to a guy (a surgeon by trade) who has an ex-wife who in turn has been contacted by one of Mitch Daniels’ potential rivals (who is eager to derail a Mitch bid before it begin, perhaps by demonstrating that the Mitch-Cheri bond is a bit shy of conservative family values).The paradox, of course, is that it’s impossible to discuss whether this material is relevant without first discussing what the material is. Today’s New York Times inadvertently demonstrated this, by putting the Mitch-Cheri marriage on page one and writing, “Should he run, that chapter in his life would no doubt be picked over in public and become a part of the personal narrative that springs up around any serious candidate.” But the article itself spotlights that chapter in his life and picks it over in public.How best to weigh this story (or non-story)? It seems trifling compared to the misadventures of Newt Gingrich, who huffed self-righteously about Bill Clinton’s conduct while he was cheating on wife number two with the woman who is now wife number three. The Daniels’ personal story seems irrelevant at least when compared to the sordid saga of John and Elizabeth Edwards, who, in the pursuit of votes, fraudulently sought to sell their marriage as an idyllic partnership.But our age of transparency does not afford us the opportunity to keep things in perspective. People want to know whatever there is to be known. Every last factoid is deemed grist for the “character issue.”Neither Daniels spouse has ever discussed the ’90s in public, except to say that the story had “happy endings,” and tonight Cheri is expected to remain mute on the topic when she speaks at an Indiana Republican party dinner. But the digital world will likely not rest until all speculations are sated. In the words of blogger and law professor Ann Althouse, “Obviously, we want more details, and if he runs he’ll have to give them. But why not? He seems too drab right now, and (the marriage story) is un-drab.”Here’s the gist of the blog chatter already (some of it from social conservatives): Why did Cheri break up her family? Was it purely personal or did it have anything to do with Mitch’s job as a high-ranking honcho at Eli Lilly & Co? When she took off for California and a new marriage, why did she leave behind her four daughters, aged eight to 14 at the time? What kind of mother leaves her girls…what did the girls think, and how as adults do they feel today…what does the interim husband think and who is he and when will he speak…
The only real option, if Mitch takes the plunge, would be to proactively address the marital matter – perhaps in a national television interview – and frame it in the most favorable fashion. Voters with rocky marital histories would probably relate. Mitch and Cheri could reasonably spin their history as proof that ultimately they were destined to be together. Heck, if Bill and Hillary Clinton could finesse his marital wanderings on 60 Minutes, why shouldn’t something similar work for the Daniels clan? On the other hand, in 1992, Bill didn’t have to deal with the Internet.Mitch Daniels was recently asked how his family felt about a possible presidential bid. He replied, “It scares them to death, and it should.” He got that right.
And speaking of Newt Gingrich, he formally announced his bid yesterday. Marriage stuff aside, his main hurdle is his loose-cannon reputation – which I wrote about today in a newspaper column.