When Rick Perry joined the Republican presidential race in August, the Texas governor was billed as a potential savior, the candidate who would finally satisfy the members of the party who were unhappy with the 2012 field.
But Perry's late entrance hasn't pleased everybody. Mitch Daniels, the Indiana governor who decided against a presidential campaign earlier this year, tells the New York Times' Jeff Zeleny that he's not thrilled about the focus and "discourse" of the primary race. Daniels insists there's still time for someone else to get into the race.
Daniels says he's tried to recruit "three or four people" to run for the Republican presidential nomination—though he declined to say who.
Why is Daniels unhappy? He says the field isn't talking enough about financial struggles facing the country, including how to pay for entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security.
"Somebody else could still enter and have a competitive chance," Daniels tells Zeleny. "The candidate I could get instantly excited about is someone who is willing to level with the American people and assume they are prepared to listen to the mathematical facts and agree that whatever other disagreements we have aren't as important."
Daniels says Perry's rhetoric on Social Security--the Texas governor has described the retirement program as a "Ponzi scheme" and "a monstrous lie" that might be better run by each of the 50 states--hasn't been "very helpful."
"If there's a problem with 'Ponzi scheme,' it is that it's too frank, not that it's wrong. But by stopping there, he might be unnecessarily scaring people," Daniels says.
The Indiana governor's comments are the latest sign of continuing discontent among leading Republicans about the party's presidential candidates.
Romney, who was the frontrunner in early 2012 polls before Perry joined the race, hasn't electrified Republicans and has issues with the party's base over subjects like health care. Michele Bachmann has thrilled members of the tea party movement, but has struggled to appeal to mainstream Republicans. Meanwhile, several Republicans, including Mike Huckabee, Karl Rove and former Vice President Dick Cheney, have criticized Perry's rhetoric, suggesting it could alienate voters in the general election.
While many polls show Obama losing to an unnamed "generic" Republican, the president still beats most of the leading Republican contenders, including Perry, Bachmann and Ron Paul, in head-to-head matchups. Romney, meanwhile, is statistically tied with Obama in most early polls—a good position compared to his Republican rivals but not great considering the president's low approval ratings in recent weeks.
Who is the missing candidate who could beat Obama? Daniels declined to say, but there's a chance that he is referring to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a fellow fiscal conservative who has repeatedly ruled out a 2012 run in spite of pressure from Republicans throughout the party. Christie's denials haven't stopped rumors that he's entertaining the possibility of a White House bid.
The Wall Street Journal's Paul Gigot was the latest to float rumors about Christie, suggesting on Fox News Sunday that Christie is "very carefully" rethinking his stance against running for president.
"I think there are enough people who have gone to him now and said, 'Look, this field is weak, and none of them may be able to beat the president,'" Gigot said. "I think he's thinking about it now, very carefully."
Christie, who has jokingly said his suicide is the only thing that would put an end to the rumors, hasn't commented on the latest round of talk about his presidential aspirations. Earlier this month, the governor was named vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association, a post that would suggest he's not interested in seeking the presidential nomination.
But there's always a chance that the requests from people like Daniels and Gigot might persuade Christie to change his mind.