How Does the 2016 Race for the GOP Presidential Nomination Play Out?

Here (alphabetically) is the field of Republican candidates for president -- their strengths, weaknesses, and prospects.

Jeb Bush: He properly announced as “his own man” and immediately assembled his father’s has-beens, even including 84-year-old Jim Baker, whom he then repudiated. Jeb is not, he assures us, his father or brother, yet he keeps mentioning them, even in his latest email appeal (“my dad’s the greatest man alive”). Jeb flubs easily anticipated questions, in an endless clarification loop. He has not developed new issues, except his inexplicable advocacy of free junior college. He seems passive, so that Trump’s attack (“Jeb is no energy”) is devastating. Unless Jeb can emerge as more than a nice guy and stop pouting, his $100 million super PAC war chest will be ineffectual. Mitt Romney has a better chance at the nomination.

Ben Carson: An earnest candidate with a story to tell, he has intense and growing support. His voters are high propensity. He is seen as a man of character, though he needs depth on issues. Supporters see his halting delivery as calm and deliberative. His rise in the polls will yield big dollars in direct mail. He can’t be ruled out as a vice-presidential nominee. He could calmly confront Trump and win the next debate and, then, who knows?

Chris Christie: He and Trump could have co-authored The Art of the Insult; but with Trump in the race, Christie is no longer dismissed as a bully. Style aside, Christie has no base. Christie, Kasich and Rubio would still waste time on marijuana prosecutions. His fifteen minutes of fame was putting Ron Paul down in the first debate, and the two may compete for the tenth spot in the upcoming CNN debate. If Christie makes that debate, never underestimate his ability to recover. He’s pugnacious and quick on his feet, especially with the weight loss. He might emerge in the sound bite as the anti-Trump.

Ted Cruz: He is intelligent and principled. He plays the long game, staying positive toward other candidates. His decision to praise Trump suggests Cruz (a) wants Trump to battle others, and (b) hopes to inherit Trump supporters if Trump falters; but (c) would be open to being Trump’s vice-presidential nominee. Walker, defending Cruz against Beltway Republicans, must hope Cruz would eventually defer to him. Walker must be smoking, and the other candidates might bypass federalism to prosecute.