The Crystal Ball

Larry Sabato's latest hit my inbox this morning, and here we have his view of the 2016 GOP race's first- and second-tier candidates.

Sabato

That's a helluva top tier, with Walker, Christie, and Paul. It's like recasting two of the Three Amigos with Al Pacino and Janice Joplin alongside Steve Martin -- they just don't all fit together. And I'm not sure Christie belongs in there at all any more. His hand-holding scenes with President Obama last fall, and his enthusiasm for gun control, have created a very real Anyone But Christie faction within the GOP. I don't know if they'll coalesce around any one candidate, but I do know they won't show up for him on Election Day if he's the nominee.

Walker might be personally bland like Pawlenty, but his recall election showed he's much scrappier. What's uncertain are his presidential ambitions. He's been quietly and effectively governing his state, but otherwise staying mostly off the radar. That might be his strongest suit -- for now. Paul's most important job between now and 2016 is to not open his big mouth and insert his big foot. Libertarians have a habit of doing that, especially when we start talking political theory. We'll see.

Rubio should be in the top first tier, but he's really damaged his brand these last few months. Whether he moves up again will depend entirely on the outcome of immigration reform. A good law that he can sell as a win for the GOP might just secure him the nomination, but the odds of a good law coming out of Harry Reid's Senate seem minute.

I like that up arrow for Cruz. I like Cruz. But the GOP has got to kill off these idiot Birthers before they kill the party.

And Santorum with an up arrow, even in the second tier? No. Not gonna happen. I know he has a devoted following, but his appeal outside that group is essentially nil. He's an unpleasant man with a sour mien. There's a scarlet letter on his forehead, and it's an L.

Sabato's third tier consists of Jindal, Ryan, and Perry. Jindal strikes me as the Bayou Walker, which isn't a bad thing, but he has yet to bring any real Southern charm to the stump. Ryan still needs seasoning. Perry might surprise us all, if he spends the next two years seriously doing his homework and working hard on appearing more presidential and less back-slapping state-level pol. I think that hurt him almost as much as his embarrassing debate performances in 2012. But he's no idiot and he really wants this. If he does those two things, he might be the guy turning a lot of heads next time around.

The wildcard on Sabato's list is John Kasich. Good guy, good credentials, but I don't see the fire in the belly.

It's not a bad field, and certainly deeper and broader than the Democrats will enjoy in 2016, which will consist of the Hillary Bulldozer, the Biden Clown Car, and (probably) a rising young superstar to be named later.