So Who The Heck Will The GOP Nominate?

Nicholas Confessore reports that “dozens of the Republican Party’s leading presidential donors and fund-raisers have begun privately discussing how to clear the field for a single establishment candidate to carry the party’s banner in 2016.” Kilgore is fascinated by such maneuvering:

I continue to be amazed at the confidence of GOP elites in the political strength of Bush, Christie and Romney. The first two continue to do relatively poorly in both nominating contest and general election polling; Bush in particular is saddled with problems that will never go away. And Mitt Romney would be the first defeated presidential nominee to attempt an immediate comeback since Hubert Humphrey in 1972. That’s a long time ago.

Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake consider Rand Paul as the most likely candidate:

People used to roll their eyes when we said Paul had a real chance to be the Republican nominee in 2016. No one rolls their eyes anymore.

Paul has a unique activist and fundraising base thanks to his dad’s two runs for president, and has shown considerable savvy in his outreach efforts to the establishment end of the party over the past few years. Paul still says odd things — his blaming of high cigarette taxes for Eric Garner’s death being the latest — that are going to get him in trouble in the heat of a presidential race. But, Paul is the candidate furthest along in the planning process for president and the one with the most current strength in early states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Jonathan Bernstein strongly disagrees:

I understand the math: It’s a large field and Paul is more or less guaranteed to get 20 percent of the vote in Iowa and New Hampshire. All he needs then is to exceed his father’s performance by a few thousand voters and he could easily capture those early states against a splintered group of Republicans. That’s an illusion. There probably won’t be a dozen candidates in Iowa; Republicans have efficiently winnowed their field pre-Iowa for several cycles. But it doesn’t matter; even if Paul wins with 25 percent of the vote in Iowa, he’s not going to win the nomination unless he can eventually reach more than 50 percent. And as long as a substantial clot of party actors opposes his candidacy and most of the rest are indifferent at best, he’s not going to get the favorable publicity he needs to do that.

Kilgore thinks Bernstein goes too far:

I’d say it’s always a good idea to show some healthy respect for the unpredictable aspects of politics, especially in intraparty contests. I, too, have a hard time envisioning Rand Paul accepting the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. But his successful maneuvering on foreign policy so far makes it a lot more possible than ever, and I’m sure there were political scientists who laughed and laughed at the idea this loopy dude would beat Mitch McConnell’s hand-picked Senate candidate in 2010.

Allahpundit, meanwhile, ponders Jeb’s chances:

There are enough “somewhat conservative” voters to carry Bush to victory if conservatives are split — and if he doesn’t turn into Huntsman along the way. Huntsman’s problem, though, wasn’t that he lacked “clarity of thought,” it’s that in ways large and small he showed contempt for the base of the party whose nomination he was seeking. Remember when he introduced himself to primary voters with a profile in “Vogue”? Remember when he tweeted during the primary campaign, apropos of nothing, that unlike certain people he believed in evolution and global warming? Remember when one of his consultants, John Weaver, complained that the GOP consisted of “a bunch of cranks”? “Voters don’t necessarily need to like a candidate to vote for him,” wrote Ross Douthat in November 2011, “but they need to think that he likes them.” Jeb Bush’s difficulty right now is that he seems almost eager to run against the party’s base, which is a recipe for disaster in the general election if not the primaries: The nastier things get, the more likely it is that some conservatives will stay home in November 2016 if he’s the nominee. Maybe he can survive the primaries backing Common Core and an amnesty deal with Democrats — Romney survived RomneyCare, didn’t he? — but he can’t get elected if he’s openly disdainful of grassroots righties. It’s not a policy thing, it’s a not-wanting-to-be-represented-by-someone-who-hates-you thing.

Ramesh also analyzes Jeb’s predicament:

As I’ve argued here before, Bush can still win the nomination: Because most of his primary votes would come from the center and left of the party, he doesn’t need to win big among the conservatives most fired up about immigration and Common Core.

But Bush’s stand on Common Core won’t help him much in the general election. For the most part, it isn’t an issue of federal policy. So he has stumbled into a fight with the party base that won’t yield him any long-term political gains. And while his stand on immigration could arguably help his chances in 2016, it doesn’t solve the party’s basic economic problem. The risk is that these stances will exhaust Republicans’ tolerance for heterodoxy, and leave Bush with less room to adopt a new economic platform. A nominee who conservatives viewed as an ideological soul mate might have more leeway.

Waldman’s two cents on Jeb:

[F]aced with this argument between someone like Bush they can’t stomach on one hand, and a candidate like Ted Cruz they know would get blown out on the other hand, they’re going to look for a middle alternative. That could end up being any one of a number of people, but at the moment it’s awfully hard to see Bush building that bridge.