James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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Campaign 2012: Haley Barbour, We Hardly Knew Ye

by James M. Lindsay
April 26, 2011

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington on February 12, 2011.  (Jonathan Ernst/courtesy Reuters)

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington on February 12, 2011. (Jonathan Ernst/courtesy Reuters)

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour surprised everyone yesterday by announcing that he won’t be throwing his hat in the ring for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination after all. After spending much of the last several months hop scotching among the early nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, Barbour decided that his:

Supporters expect and deserve no less than absolute fire in the belly from their candidate. I cannot offer that with certainty, and total certainty is required.

Governor Barbour’s wife, Marsha, has to be happy with the decision. She recently told WLOX Channel 13 in Biloxi-Gulfport-Pascagoula that the thought of a presidential campaign “horrifies me”:

You would commit to 10 years, which would be two years of campaigning, then you run to win, so it would be four years. Then you would want to run again—so it’s 10 years, and it’s the last part of our productive lives.

The Governor and Mrs. Barbour have spent much of their married life living apart, with Haley in Washington, D.C., holding down a variety of jobs in and out of government, and Marsha raising the kids back in Yazoo City, Mississippi. That’s gotta be tough on family life.

Practical politics no doubt played an important role in Barbour’s decision not to run. Although he might be the best connected and savviest Republican politician—Gov. Mike Huckabee says Barbour is “the smartest political mind in America today…a sheer genius of political strategy”—his travels didn’t excite the Republican base. A poll of South Carolina voters released yesterday had him running seventh with just 2 percent support. If a Mississippi politician can’t energize South Carolinians, he probably isn’t going to wow Iowans.

Barbour’s decision not to run has potentially important consequences for the GOP’s foreign policy debate. He has been the one mainstream (i.e., not libertarian) Republican candidate to question the wisdom of America’s military activism overseas. Last month he asked:

What are we doing in Libya? I mean we have to be careful, in my mind, about getting into nation building exercises. Whether it’s in Libya or somebody else, or somewhere else.

He also doubts the value of the long war in Afghanistan:

We should do whatever it takes to win the war on terror, because we should, whatever it takes, but there are only a 100 al-Qaeda in Afghanistan according to our own government. We need to step back and take a look at what we’re doing and see if we got the resources there, is all that necessary for our mission to be accomplished.

It will be interesting to see if Gary Johnson or Ron Paul makes this argument during the Republican primary debates.

One concluding piece of trivia. If Barbour had been elected president, he would have been the first since Harry Truman not to have a bachelor’s degree. Barbour left the University of Mississippi during his senior year of college to work on Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign. He never returned to finish his undergraduate degree, though he received a law degree from Ole Miss in 1973. Ole Miss doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree to enter its law school? Cool. Applications are available here.

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