For months now, my wife Kimberley and I have received encouragement from family, friends, colleagues, and supporters from across South Dakota and the country to run for the presidency of the United States...[but] at this time, I feel that I am best positioned to fight for America’s future here in the trenches of the United States Senate.
Translation: Thune didn't think he would win. He's spent his entire career in politics, either as an aide, an appointed official, state party chairman, or candidate for office. He ran for Congress at age 35 and has probably imagined himself as President since he was a toddler. In short: I can guarantee you that if John Thune thought he would win this campaign, he would have run.
The only question is whether Thune thinks the problem would have been winning the nomination or beating President Obama. Given how how much insider enthusiasm there was for him to run, I'm betting on the latter. Each of the top three candidates -- Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee -- have serious flaws. Romney's is that he's an unprincipled hack, Palin's is that she's Palin, and Huckabee's is that he doesn't seem to be running.
Thune could have run circles around Tim Pawlenty, and he had an army of operatives just dying for him to make the bid. In fact, as of September, he'd all but announced he would be running:
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the "Daschle slayer" who beat the Senate Democratic leader in 2004, is ramping up plans for a presidential run in 2012, associates say.
Thune, 49, spoke candidly about his plans for a cover story in The Weekly Standard — priceless exposure for an ambitious conservative. Senior Editor Stephen F. Hayes writes that Thune "is likely to run for president in 2012."
"Thune allows that he's thinking about it seriously enough that he's gamed out his 'pathway to get there,' calculated the amount of money it would take to be competitive in early primaries, and even thought about the timing of an announcement," Hayes writes in "Dakota Dreaming: The Presidential Ambitions of John Thune."
Since that time, it's not like the GOP field has gotten any stronger. Romney hasn't gone anywhere except down, Huckabee is showing less interest than Mario Cuomo, and every time Sarah Palin opens her mouth, she turns off yet another swath of America. So if Thune wanted the nomination, it's there for the taking.
But while the GOP field has gotten weaker, President Obama has gotten stronger. In December and January he proved his political mettle, and despite the midterm results he's bounce backed in a big way. I'm not saying President Obama is a lock for reelection. If Republican spending cuts lead to a double dip recession, he might pay the political price. But at least based on his decision today, it seems clear John Thune wasn't willing to take a bet on that happening.