Latest GOP 2016 rankings: The leader will surprise you (+video)(Read article summary)
Imagine the GOP presidential field for 2016 as a layer cake: a bottom layer, a surprise layer, and a top-of-the-heap layer, as pundit Larry Sabato envisions it. The guy at the very top? Hint: a badger.
Whoâs up and whoâs down in the race for the 2016 GOP nomination? Donât blame us for asking â that contest is well under way whether voters like it or not. As we and many others have written, right now US politics is in the midst of the âinvisible primary,â in which big donors, campaign consultants, and top party figures line up behind their candidates of choice. Theyâre setting the table before the entertaining feast of the actual primaries begins.
That said, some new ratings are out that we find pretty interesting. Theyâre from the âCrystal Ballâ newsletter of the always quotable Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. He chops the Republican field into layers, and in his top tier Dr. Sabato puts New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (No. 3, and falling); Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky (No. 2, and rising); and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin (No. 1, and âhuhâ?).
Thatâs right, Gov. Scott Walker. Remember him? Heâs a hero to the right for winning a big victory in Wisconsin by limiting the bargaining powers of some public-sector labor unions. âCrystal Ballâ likes his combination of executive experience, tea party bona fides, and political resilience. But itâs possible heâd be unpalatable to national voters, write Sabato and co-political scientists Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley.
âWe like Walkerâs potential as a candidate, but just because he tops our list doesnât make him the frontrunner: This is a very big and fluid field,â the trio write.
Sabatoâs second tier consists of Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida (widely seen as hurt by his attempt to garner GOP support for immigration reform); Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas (not beloved by the Republican establishment); and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio (supported "Obamacare" Medicaid expansion, ouch).
Perhaps more interesting is the âwild cardâ tier: former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin (two serious Badger State candidates?), and Jeb Bush, who needs no further description.
OK, to review all this, weâd agree Governor Christie is falling. Bridge-gate is developing a life of its own and may turn out to be rare âgateâ that actually affects a politicianâs fortunes. Senator Rand rising? Donât see it. Heâs got a devoted following and draws some liberal support for his anti-National Security Agency surveillance stand, but his noninterventionist foreign policy limits him in the GOP primaries.
Governor Walker? Wisconsin Democrats dislike him intensely. Come to think of it, that probably helps him â for now.
As for former VP candidate Ryan, he might be underestimated here. Heâs the flavor of the week in some GOP circles. âIs Paul Ryan the man to beat in 2016?â writes Allahpundit Friday at the right-leaning "Hot Air" site.Â âHeâs as personally likeable as any of his rivals, and he is, technically, now ânext in lineâ in a party that tends to go that route when making hard choices in the primaries.âÂ
And Jeb Bush may be limited only by his own ambition (and by the fact that his mom keeps implying he shouldnât run). Heâs an establishment guy the conservatives mostly respect who is keeping himself out of current policy disagreements.
âBush is an obvious prospect. Despite the baggage his name carries in some circles, the reservoir of goodwill among Republicans for Bush is deep, and his popularity with the suit-and-tie crowd is high,â writes Beth Reinhard of National Journal.
Yeah, yeah, but what do the polls say?
At this point, polls arenât that indicative, given that they generally reflect name recognition and that itâs such a long time until voting actually starts.
But if you look at the RealClearPolitics rolling average of 2016 GOP candidates, No. 1 is ... Mike Huckabee. Heâs the choice of 15 percent of self-identified Republican voters.
OK, he has been included in only a few polls, so maybe there are not enough data. Go down the list, and the alternate No. 1 is who youâd probably expect, Christie, at 12.8 percent. Ryan, Bush, and Paul are bunched closely behind him.
Walker is way down the list, at 5.3 percent. Well, at least heâs ahead of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
As political scientist Jonathan Bernstein pointed out Thursday, most of the ranking now going on is just punditry, meaning guesswork. Heâd lump everybody who has conventional credentials for the job, and is within the GOP mainstream on policy, into one top tier and leave it at that.
Currently there is âno one who seems to have any objective case to be in the lead,â Mr. Bernstein writes on Bloomberg Opinion.