“The Likeliest Republican Nominee”

Cillizza thinks it’s Rand Paul because “the establishment conservative field is packed with potential candidates while the movement conservative field is relatively sparse”:

Simply put, Paul is more likely to emerge victorious from the movement conservative primary than any of the potential candidates seeking the establishment conservative banner. At the start of the year, we would have said Christie would have had a leg up in that establishment primary — and hence an edge to be the nominee since the party’s pick traditionally comes from the establishment wing. But Christie’s struggles to get out from under the lane closures scandal that reaches high into his administration has reduced him to just another member of the pack. Walker and Kasich both have the potential to break out but first need to get by real reelection races this fall. Jeb Bush would quite clearly be the establishment frontrunner if he ran but no one has any idea if he wants to or will. Ditto Paul Ryan. And, while Jindal seems to be gaining a bit of steam, he remains second tier in this group.

But Weigel thinks the senator is overrated as a candidate:

As long as Paul’s in the Senate, as long as he’s a fascinating, quotable, and potentially successful libertarian iconoclast, stories about his associations and his movement will be relegated to the think-piece pile. If he’s a credible presidential candidate? The jackals run loose, and they know where to hunt. Years of experience and evidence tell us that Paul can be rattled by that. His potential opponents know this.

Henry Olsen points out that movement conservative candidates usually don’t appeal to the crucial “somewhat conservative” subset of Republicans:

This group is the most numerous nationally and in most states, comprising 35–40 percent of the national GOP electorate. While the numbers of moderates, very conservative and evangelical voters vary significantly by state, somewhat conservative voters are found in similar proportions in every state. They are not very vocal, but they form the bedrock base of the Republican Party.

They also have a significant distinction: they always back the winner. The candidate who garners their favor has won each of the last four open races. This tendency runs down to the state level as well. Look at the exit polls from virtually any state caucus or primary since 1996 and you will find that the winner received a plurality of or ran roughly even among the somewhat conservative voters.