As Mitch Daniels edges closer and closer to what most expect will be a decision to run for president next year, there is increasing focus on a detail of his personal life that has hitherto been known only to political junkies: His wife, Cheri, divorced him in 1994, moved away to be with another man in California, and came back to Mitch and remarried him in 1997. Daniels like to say of this chapter in his life, “If you like happy endings, you’ll love our story.” While no doubt true, this also no doubt conceals parts of a story that no one would want to talk about, even if it is tailor made for Oprah. And average voters who don’t follow presidential politics closely, which is most voters, will find this story compelling but perhaps just plain weird in some ways.
Cheri Daniels is said to be extremely reluctant for Mitch to run, and you can understand why. Rival campaigns will float rumors to damage Daniels with Christian/family-values voters (though you can just as easily imagine this backfiring). Oppo researchers and sleazeball reporters (sorry for the redundancy) will badger the man Cheri was with in California for those three years, along with friends and acquaintances, trying to get them to cough up personal material. I hope Daniels has a snappy line for all of this along the lines of, “I’m running for president, not to be Oprah’s permanent guest.” It would be a salutary tonic for our politics. Or maybe Cheri and Mitch should go on 60 Minutes, Bill and Hillary–style, and put the whole matter behind them with one big move, rather than let it dribble along.
There’s one other aspect of Daniels that may excite some lowbrow rumormongering: It turns out that Daniels’s grandfather was an immigrant from Syria, making Daniels part Arab-American. Salon wonders about this today; he’s in fact been honored by the Arab-American Institute. Does this somehow color his foreign-policy views, which are alleged to be neo-isolationist? I doubt it, but you can expect this to be an additional front in a whisper campaign against Daniels. (For the record, Daniels is Presbyterian. I heard him once tell a very funny joke about his own denomination.)