It is, after all, almost 2014. And we know that the beginnings of what political scientists call the "invisible primary" are well underway -- i.e., the GOP (and the Dems, but more on that in another post) elites are already deciding who is a viable presidential candidate and ideologically trustworthy.
Chris Christie is clearly number one, as he is cruising to re-election in New Jersey -- a reliably blue state in presidential elections -- tonight. Christie is also clearly the establishment GOP's choice vis-a-vis the Tea Party's choice 1 and 1a: Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.
Cruz is the ideological darling of the Tea Party, its id, the politician who says and does all the things the Tea Partiers are mad at Boehner and McConnnell for not saying and doing. The problem is everyone, even those in his own party, does not like Cruz. Even Rand Paul does not like him.
Paul can make this argument to the GOP voters and party elites: I am electable, unlike Cruz, and I, unlike Chris Christie (gay marriage), am ideologically reliable. However, Paul if keeps challenging members of the media to duels he ends up looking more like a Cruz than a winner.
So, that's the top tier. Who else do we have?
Jeb Bush -- another establishment choice -- Marco Rubio and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker make up the second tier. Bush has name recognition, and has criticized Cruz publicly. However, he simply has not done much that would indicate there's a fire in the belly for him to challenge Christie as the establishment's choice.
Scott Walker has won two elections: the 2010 governor's race and 2011 recall race. So he's a winner, but, almost needless to say, even though he's the first governor to survive a recall election, being recalled means you're a pretty divisive politician. Walker also needs to win a third election next November, otherwise his chances of being seen as presidential timber are nil. On the other hand, we know the Koch Brothers like him.
Marco Rubio rounds out the second tier. You may disagree with me having him this low. However, he has been scarred by the immigration battle and he finished sixth in recent polling in New Hampshire gauging voters' preferences for the 2016 nomination. He's got time, but the Tea Party bloom has come off his rose.
Now we come to the long shots. The least lengthy of the long shots is Bobby Jindal. He has had an even more precipitous fall than Rubio. Remember when he was picked to give the GOP's rebuttal to Obama's State of Union in 2009, and was just crushed by talking heads on the left and right? He's moved back from the national scene since, but since he does not have a re-election bid to worry about he can put out feelers.
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Finally, there's Paul Ryan (if this list gets any deeper, I'm going have start dipping into names that you've never heard of . . . well, that, and Rick Santorum). He's been a veep candidate before, albeit a losing one. Moreover, he does not seem to be taking the steps necessary to build a presidential campaign -- Ryan seems more concerned with building a power base in the House.
(By the way, Governor Rick Perry is not on this list because few to none of the players in the invisible primary take him seriously after the 2008 debacle.)
In sum, 2016 will be fascinating year to watch these Republicans fight it out for the nomination. It really will be a fight for the future of the GOP: Establishment vs. Tea Party. (Hint: if you're a Democrat, you want the Tea Party to win that fight).