So why has Mississipi Governor Haley Barbour, Establishment Republican Supremo, decided to drop out of the GOP presidential sweepstakes? Here’s Dan Baltz’s explanation:

His decision not to enter the contest, he said in a statement, grew out of his conclusion that he lacked the necessary fire in the belly. But friends of Barbour, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share insight about his decision, said he had come to the conclusion that Republicans can win only if they are totally focused on serious issues and not distracted by some of the side issues, such as Obama’s birthplace, that have arisen in the early going.

Push that just a sentence further and you get: And he realized that the only way he could win the nomination was by campaigning on the side issues–ick.

Actually, for guys like Barbour, the side issues include things like abortion and gay marriage. Take a look at Charles Reagan Wilson’s account of his 2007 reelection race, where he was discombobulated by a Democrat who ran a Jesus-laced throw-the-money-changers-out-of-the-temple campaign. Barbour’s a throwback to the days of the Southern Bourbons, and make that bourbon and branch: The joke in Mississippi during a stint of budget cutting was that the only state account not to feel the knife was the governor’s mansion Maker’s Mark line item.

Forget about the lobbying for big tobacco and the ill-considered comments on race. What gave Barbour the vapors was the prospect of going around Iowa pastor to pastor testifying to his born-again experience. My guess is that his pal, Indiana Governor Mitch “Social Values Truce” Daniels, suffers from the same condition. Going back to George H.W. Bush, Establishment Republicans have had to tug the forelock before the evangelical elite if they want the nomination. Ick.

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