Susan Reimer: Politicians' families in the cross-hairs

When Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels announced last week that he would not run for the Republican nomination for president, it was a rare moment of clarity in the fever dream that is politics.

"Simply put, I find myself caught between two duties. I love my country; I love my family more," he said in announcing his decision. He said he did not want to disrupt the lives of his wife and his four adult daughters.


However, moments after making his decision known, he issued a second statement defending his wife, Cheri, against assertions that she had abandoned her children in the early 1990s when she moved to California with an old flame.

By 1997, she had divorced the other man, returned to Indiana and remarried Mr. Daniels, and the most he has been willing to say on the matter since then has been, "If you like happy endings, you will love our story. Love and the love of children overcame any problems."


He said this marital hiccup played no role in his decision, but certainly the scrutiny of that period in their lives would only intensify if he chose to enter the presidential race.

Indeed, Michelle Cottle of The Daily Beast reported that the campaign staff of a potential rival called The Washington Post and offered to put a reporter in touch with the ex-wife of the man for whom Cheri Daniels had left her husband.

Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump also dropped out of the presidential race, but their decisions seem to have been more pragmatic. Mr. Huckabee, who said he had heard from God on the subject, has a nice contract with Fox News, and Mr. Trump has a good thing going with "Celebrity Apprentice."

Newt Gingrich seems not to have had the same epiphany.

Not only is he married to his third wife, a former staffer with whom he had an affair while he was married and she was in his employ — and while he was orchestrating the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky affair — but his credit cards have gotten a good going over, and he has been asked to explain his quarter-million-dollar (or more) jewelry bill at Tiffany.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour also declined to enter the race for the Republican nomination, and it may only be coincidence that his wife was quoted as saying that the thought of a national campaign "horrified" her.

It should horrify anybody with a lick of sense.

I can testify to the vicious and racist remarks made about Michelle Obama's decision to plant a vegetable garden, for heaven's sake. One can only imagine what it might have been like for her and her children if the circumstances of her birth had resulted in a widely held belief that she was a Muslim mole, planted to destroy the United States.


Oh. Wait. That did happen. To her husband.

Family is collateral damage in politics, and only the kind of person who would also father a child with a housekeeper, or expose her pregnant and unwed teenage daughter to national scrutiny, or use campaign staff to hide a love child, could possibly be attracted to this line of work.

I can take "complicated" in the life stories of my political leaders. I can even take "messy." Life can be complicated, and it can be messy.

What I can't take is seeing the Cheri Danielses of the world dragged down the campaign trail, knowing that everybody out there is wondering how she could possibly have walked out on her children, and what did he have on her that forced her to come back?

I mean, isn't that what you are wondering?

I thought so.


Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays. Her email is