Rep. Mike Pence's decision to skip the 2012 presidential contest
in favor of a likely run for Indiana governor is probably a smart move.
We don't elect lowly members of Congress to the presidency in this country, but we do
elect governors. As such, I can't help thinking Pence will be better positioned to run for president in the future because he has postponed a leap into the primaries next year.
What is more, he might avoid the prospect of winning a hard-fought nomination, only to then face an incumbent president.
But there is a good argument to be made for Pence seizing the opportunity now. Unlike the 2012 field -- the Republican bench will likely be incredibly strong in 2016. Movement conservatives who were trying to "draft" Pence this year may have more to choose from in four short years.
Today, the GOP primary field is littered with potential candidates who hearken back to previous eras. Newt Gingrich and Haley Barbour, for example, are inextricably tied to the 1990s. Former Sen. Rick Santorum reminds me of the Bush years. And Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Sarah Palin are all tied to 2008 -- a "wilderness year" for the GOP.
This is not to say one of them cannot transcend their past -- politicians reinvent themselves all the time -- but it is to say that they have some baggage. They are, it seems to me, like a ragtag team a once-great NFL coach might cobble together for the short term -- as he drafts the next crop of young players he hopes will get him back to the "show" later on. For Republicans, 2012 may be a "rebuilding year."
And while the possibility of a strong field in 2016 might be comforting to conservatives, it might be also bad news for Pence -- if his real goal is to run for president then.
By that year, Louisiana's Bobby Jindal will be a two-term governor and a former congressman, and Marco Rubio will be finishing up a six-year term as U.S. senator from Florida.
And while a primary between Jindal, Rubio and presumed-Gov. Pence would be exciting enough, consider additional players who might also be ready to run -- such as Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.
Looking too far ahead can be dangerous. Who knows what tomorrow will hold for anyone? But any good billiards player knows enough to think two shots ahead. I can't help but think that 2016 has already entered the calculus of those weighing their moves for 2012.