Viewpoint

Handicapping the GOP contenders

Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, speaks during a news conference in Warsaw, Poland.
Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, speaks during a news conference in Warsaw, Poland. BLOOMBERG

The Republican nominating race is a mess: a strong field, but with 10 declared candidates and a half-dozen more to come, we need a bouncer to keep order.

I’ve given myself the job. Rope lines separate the four categories.

(A) Top tier:

1. Jeb Bush. Solid, no sizzle. Sizzle may be in less demand than eight years ago, but his inability to separate from the pack, his recent campaign shakeup and his four-day stumble over Megyn Kelly’s “knowing what we know now” Iraq question have given even his supporters pause. Nonetheless, a bulging war chest, a fine gubernatorial record and a wide knowledge of domestic issues guarantee top-tier staying power.

Chances: 25 percent.

2. Scott Walker. Maintains a significant lead in Iowa and it’s more than just a Wisconsinite’s favorite-son advantage. He’s got a solid governing record, has raised respectable money and has gone almost errorless for more than a month.

Chances: 25 percent.

3. Marco Rubio. Good launch, steady follow-up. With his fluency in foreign affairs, has benefited the most from President Obama’s imploding foreign policy. The New York Times’ comical attempts to nail him on driving and financial profligacy only confirm how much the Democrats fear his prospects.

Chances: 35 percent.

(B) Polls well, but can’t win.

4. Rand Paul. Fought a principled, if hyperbolic, fight on metadata collection and privacy rights, but his ambivalent national-security posture alienates many in the GOP base. High floor, low ceiling.

5. Ben Carson. Ditto. Broadly popular, but major rookie problems. His national finance chairman, deputy campaign manager and general counsel have all resigned within the past month.

(C) Second tier, with a chance to jump.

6. Ted Cruz. Has the best chance to join the leaders. Only 16 percent “would never vote for.” His claimed $40 million raised (campaign plus super PACs) suggests a serious presence throughout the early contests at least.

Chances: 5 percent.

7. John Kasich. Jack Kemp on steroids, a bleeding-heart conservative, articulate and voluble, but somewhat less disciplined than Kemp.

Chances: 3 percent.

8. Carly Fiorina. Has proved strong and steady on the campaign trail. The question is: Can you reach enough of Iowa and New Hampshire with just a car and a clipboard?

Chances: 2 percent.

(D) Second tier, in need of a miracle.

9. Rick Perry. Energetic launch. Spoke well, looked good. After four years of studying and prepping, Perry looks ready. Achilles’ heel: After his 2011 “oops” moment, he is on 24-hour gaffe watch.

10. Chris Christie. Damaged by Bridgegate, boxed out (ideologically) by Bush.

11. Mike Huckabee. A dead-set-against-entitlement-reform populist. Major social conservative appeal, but given the leftward ratcheting of the nation’s cultural center, it may be less of an asset, even in the GOP primaries, than in 2008.

I’ve done no justice to Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum, all eminently likable and highly qualified, but yet to make their move. If they do, The Racing Form will be there.

Charles Krauthammer’s email address is letters@charleskrauthammer.com.

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