Spouses and Running for the Presidency

Can one effectively run for the presidency if one's spouse doesn't want to be in the spotlight?

A story in the NYT (Weighing a White House Bid as Opening a Door to Past Pain) raises an interesting question:  can a candidate run a successful campaign for their party’s nomination if their spouse isn’t interested in campaigning and all that goes along with it?

The case that raises the question is that of Mitch Daniels and his wife Cheri:

Cheri Daniels has made no secret of her distaste for politics. She did not campaign for her husband, Mitch Daniels, during two races for governor. She did not fully move into the governor’s mansion after his election. She has never delivered a political speech.

Just dealing with that paragraph for a moment:  I think it would be impossible for Daniels to run for the GOP nomination, and especially impossible to effectively run for the White House as the nominee, if the above scenario continued to play out.  We expect too much of First Ladies/potential First Ladies.

Part of the reason that Cheri Daniels is uninterested in politics is likely the following:

While much is known about Mr. Daniels in Republican circles, where he is viewed as a fiscally focused, budget-cutting, pragmatic-thinking conservative, there is one period of his life that has remained almost entirely private — until now.

He has been married twice — to the same wife.

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: in this case a three-year gap in their marriage in the 1990s, when she filed for divorce, moved to California with a new husband and left Mr. Daniels to raise their four daughters, then ages 8 to 14. She later returned and remarried him.

Now, certainly, I can respect the fact the Mrs. Daniels would not want to have this situation discussed ad nauseam in the press.  But, it would inevitably happen should Daniels decide to run.

Mrs. Daniels is, however, making her first public speech this week (the keynote address at the spring dinner of the Indiana Republican Party)—although what that means remains to be seen.

If she takes the following attitude, what do you all think are the odds that Daniels can effectively run?

If he does run, Republicans here believe, Mrs. Daniels will not dramatically change the distant role she has played in his previous campaigns or during his time at the White House as political director to President Ronald Reagan and budget director to President George W. Bush. She explained her reasoning in a 2005 interview with Indianapolis Woman magazine, saying, “They did not ask me to sit in on the job interview.”

“I saw the campaign the same way,” she said, “as an interview.”


To add evidence to the contention that spouses are rather important, see The Daily Beast, Haley Barbour’s Wife Vetoes 2012 Presidential Bid.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. ponce says:

    Perhaps Daniels is pretending to run for president just to punish his wife’s…marital hiccup?

  2. Even more fundametnally, must one be married to run for President?

  3. James Joyner says:

    This is an aspect of Mitch Daniels’ life about which I was heretofore completely unaware. It is a bizarre episode, indeed.

    We may have reached the point where very little in one’s personal life much matter–so long as one confronts them well. Bill Clinton was the trailblazer on that one but he probably smoothed the path for John McCain, Rudy Giuliani–maybe even Newt Gingrich to be able to make plausible runs. (Giuliani failed miserably, as I suspect Newt will–but other failings, not their personal baggage were/will likely be their undoing.) But we’re not at the point where presidential aspirants can be allowed any privacy; indeed, they now have less than ever.

    Even now that career women are becoming First Lady on a regular basis, we still expect them to be a co-Head of State (not Government). A reluctant wife is likely a show stopper.

  4. Charles

    No, but we haven’t had a bachelor President since James Buchanan in 1856. And his tenure is hardly an endorsement of the idea.

  5. @James:

    I get this impression that this is just now becoming fully public (which goes to show the difference between running for governor and simply considering running for president).

    Ben Smith suggests today in a Politico piece that releasing the info now may be an attempt to clear the air on it so that he can run. I think that the biography part can be overcome, but I do not think that he can be successful if she won’t campaign.

  6. PD Shaw says:

    I’m reminded of Truman’s wife, who didn’t like politics, didn’t seem at all comfortable in the traditional role of first lady and moved back to Missouri for the bulk of his Presidency.

  7. @PD:

    I don’t know that that could work in the current environment. Certainly not in the campaign.

  8. @Steven,

    Several political friends I know in Indiana have told me that this story is old news there but, like you, I was unaware of it until the stories came out in the last couple days.

  9. FWIW, Cheri Daniels didn’t participate in the campaigns for Governor in Indiana and he managed to win. But, I agree with Steven Taylor, it would be odd indeed in the modern context for a candidates spouse to completely sit out the campaign

  10. I can see running that way for the governorship (heck, I can’t recall seeing the wife of our newly elected gov), but running for the WH is a whole other ballgame.

  11. Kylopod says:

    >we haven’t had a bachelor President since James Buchanan in 1856.

    Cleveland entered office as a bachelor, before marrying a 21-year-old. He had already been found during the campaign to have an out-of-wedlock child.

  12. Neil Hudelson says:

    I can’t remember if this came out during his first gubernatorial run. If it did, it didn’t make much of a splash. By his re-election bid, no one seemed to care.

  13. c.red says:

    I’m with Neil, I don’t remember it coming up in Daniel’s first election and I moved out of state before he was re-elected.

    He became governor in 2004 , so he was riding the wave of feel good support Republicans had going on then and there wasn’t a lot of questioning of him in that campaign. I can’t even remember who his opponent was.

  14. Derrick says:

    I’m sure David Brooks is extremely excited about the US electing our first cuckold President.

  15. michael reynolds says:

    First: This place is infested with Hoosiers.

    Second: In a perfect world it wouldn’t matter if she campaigned. I’ve never thought we any right to impose anything on a “First Lady.” She’s not elected, we don’t pay her, she should be free to do or not do whatever she likes.

    But in the real world it will be very tough because the inevitable question is, “What does she know about him that we don’t?” Added to the unusual divorce/remarriage, that is a tough road for a short guy from an electorally insignificant (yeah, I said it,) state with a record of helping George W. Bush to blow the surplus who is running against a man with a picture perfect family.

  16. michael reynolds says:

    By the way, tough day for GOP candidates. Romney’s attempt to distance himself from RomneyCare was just laughable, Ron Paul announced he was against shooting Bin Laden, we find this out about Daniels, and Newt . . . well, he’s Newt.