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First Thoughts: No thanks

Daniels is the latest Republican to say no thanks to a bid against Obama… But as Mario Cuomo, Al Gore, and Dick Gephardt discovered in 1992, every nomination is worth having… Pawlenty makes his presidential run official in Iowa at 12:30 pm ET -- and he's trying to sound a lot like Chris Christie and Daniels… Get ready for a summer of speculation about other Republicans who might run… Previewing Obama’s Euro Trip… Scott Brown will vote against the Ryan budget… NY-26 poll has Democrat Hochul in the lead… And Huntsman wraps up his swing through New Hampshire.

*** No thanks: On the day another 2012 Republican makes it official (Tim Pawlenty), the political storyline is remains fixed on the one that got away (Mitch Daniels). Daniels' decision over the weekend not to run for president wasn't surprising, but what is are all the top Republicans who've taken a pass. Mike Pence. John Thune. Haley Barbour. Mike Huckabee. Daniels. Even Donald Trump. Their reasons have been different -- Pence had his eyes on Indiana's governor’s mansion, Barbour said he didn't have the fire in his belly, and Daniels said it was his family. But, collectively, these no-gos further a narrative suggesting a reluctance to take on President Obama next year. Question: If Obama's presidency has, in their words, been so damaging to the economy/deficit/national security/Israel, why aren't these Republicans trying to unseat him?

*** But remember 1991-1992: Then again, as those who took a pass on the 1992 presidential race know (like Al Gore, Mario Cuomo, Dick Gephardt, and Bill Bradley), every nomination is worth having. Indeed, thanks mostly to the economy and a relatively polarized electorate, there’s a path for a Republican to go from McCain's 46% to 50%. And just look at this New York Times piece from August 1991: “Democrats struggled today to adjust to the last thing they needed six months before the Iowa caucuses: an already tiny Presidential field that keeps shrinking. As expected, Senator John D. Rockefeller 4th announced in Charleston, W.Va., today that he would not seek the 1992 Democratic Presidential nomination. That announcement, just three weeks after Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, the House majority leader, took himself out of the race, combined with the demurrals of other Democratic heavyweights to create a frustrating, embarrassing pattern for the party.” Is it 1991 -- or it is 2003 or 1995? Team Obama isn’t taking anything for granted. “Unless it’s Palin or Gingrich, we expect a very close race no matter who emerges,” an Obama 2012 adviser told the Washington Post.

*** Pawlenty makes it official (and sounds like Chris Christie): While Daniels, Barbour, and Huckabee signal a reluctance to take on Obama next year, Tim Pawlenty sure doesn’t. At a town hall in Des Moines, IA at 12:30 pm ET, Pawlenty will formally announce what we’ve all known for the past year or so: he’s running for president. (He also released an announcement video yesterday.) Per released excerpts of his remarks today in Iowa, Pawlenty is trying to grab from Daniels or Chris Christie the mantle as the straight-talking truth-teller. "President Obama's policies have failed. But more than that, he won't even tell us the truth about what it's really going to take to get out of the mess we're in… I'm going to take a different approach. I am going to tell you the truth." More T-Paw: “We're running out of time. It's time for new leadership. It's time for a new approach. And it's time for America's president -- and anyone who wants to be president -- to look you in the eye and tell you the truth." The question this tough rhetoric raises is whether Mr. Minnesota Nice is the right candidate for this message. Tactically, this is exactly where a candidate vying to be the alternative to Romney ought to be, given where the conservative opinion elite and grassroots are. But can Pawlenty sell it? Romney, tactically, tried to be the perfect fit for the GOP electorate in 2008, and it never fit him.

*** And T-Paw has his chance: The stars have certainly aligned for Pawlenty; he stands to benefit (in campaign money, endorsements, and stature) from Daniels’ absence. But here’s also a truth: He has to win Iowa. Second place isn’t going to give him the momentum to springboard him into New Hampshire and South Carolina. In his interview on “TODAY” this morning, Pawlenty took a pass on Matt Lauer’s question why he would be a better GOP nominee than, say, Mitt Romney. On Lauer’s question if he has enough charisma to defeat Obama, “I am not running for entertainer-in-chief… I’ll bring the solutions forward that will actually fix the country.” On Tuesday, Pawlenty heads to Florida, and he travels to DC the day after.

*** Get ready for the summer of speculation: So we pretty much have our GOP field: Romney, Pawlenty, Huntsman, and maybe Bachmann -- along with Gingrich, Santorum, Ron Paul, Herman Cain and the rest. But make no mistake: The next three or four months will be full about speculation and chatter if someone else gets in. Will Chris Christie listen to a draft (it's coming, trust us)? Could we see Rudy Giuliani take a look (he is, according to a handful of GOPers in the know)? What about Rick Perry? And then there’s Paul Ryan. On “Meet the Press” yesterday, the Budget Committee chairman left the door slightly open. “I'm not running for president. I'm not planning on running for president. If you're running for president, you've got to do a lot of things to line up a candidacy. I've not done any of those things. It's not my plan.” One other thing: There is plenty of Bush money on the sidelines. Perhaps we should refer to these Bush money folks as "Lone" Rangers?

*** Euro Trip: Perhaps the best way to describe President Obama’s visit to Europe (his 9th since taking office) is a "maintenance trip" -- as in, it's about maintaining the goodwill, whether with Ireland (important to Irish-Americans) the U.K. (that special relationship), the G8 (always important), and Poland (think missile defense and Russia). Three issues hang over this trip: Libya, Afghanistan, and the Middle East peace process. As impatient as the American public can get over military operations, it's even more so in Europe, and there's growing impatience in some European corners over Libya and some backseat commanding over America's role in the military campaign.

*** Defining the trip’s success: Success for the White House on this trip, politically, would be full-throated G8 support for the president's vision for the Mideast peace process, as well as support for the financial programs and recommendations he laid out for countries going through democratic reforms. Aides suggest his Israeli-Palestinian roadmap will get strong G8 and Euro support. But it's less clear whether European countries are ready to throw in what the U.S. would like to see financially when it comes to helping countries like Egypt and Tunisia.

*** Scott Brown will vote against the Ryan budget: While he didn’t use the words “right-wing social engineering,” Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) today pens an op-ed explaining why he will vote AGAINST the Ryan budget when it comes up for a vote this week in the Senate. In short, he opposes its Medicare phase-out. “I fear that as health inflation rises, the cost of private plans will outgrow the government premium support— and the elderly will be forced to pay ever higher deductibles and co-pays… Second, Medicare has already taken significant cuts to help pay for Obama’s health care plan. The president and Congress cut a half trillion dollars to the private side of Medicare — meaning seniors are at risk of losing their Medicare Advantage coverage. Another key principle is that seniors should not have to bear a disproportionate burden. But that doesn’t mean we do nothing.”

*** NY-26 and Medicare: Speaking of the Ryan budget, it has emerged as a significant issue in tomorrow’s special congressional election in NY-26 to replace ex-GOP Rep. Chris Lee (he of the shirtless photo). A Siena Research Institute poll released over the weekend shows that Democrat Kathy Hochul leading Republican Jane Corwin, 42%-38%, with independent Jack Davis at 12%. Make no mistake: If Hochul pulls off the upset, she can thank the wealthy Davis, who previously ran for this seat as a Democrat. But the Ryan budget – and Medicare, specifically, has played a role here. Per Siena’s analysis, “Twenty-one percent of likely voters name Medicare as the single most important issue for them in their decision to select a candidate in this special election.  Of those, 74 percent prefer Hochul.” There's mounting evidence that Democrats have drawn blood on Medicare: The two best examples today are Brown op-ed and NY-26.

*** On the 2012 trail: In addition to Pawlenty’s announcement from Iowa, Huntsman finishes up his multi-day swing through New Hampshire, and Ron Paul unveils his leadership team in Ankeny, IA.

Countdown to NY-26 special election: 1 day
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 82 days
Countdown to NV-2 special election: 113 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 169 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 259 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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