First, the betting markets. According to Paddy Power, the top five candidates are (with odds):
1. Jeb Bush (9/4)
2. Marco Rubio (11/2)
3. Rand Paul (6/1)
4. Chris Christie (13/2)
5. Mitt Romney (8/1)
(The next candidate, Paul Ryan, has already said he's not running.)
PredictWise is another betting website which I just discovered from FiveThirtyEight. (My buddy in London, Jamie, referred me to still another one, but it's way too complicated.) I figure, due to arbitrage (the simultaneous buying and selling), most betting websites should predict about the same thing anyway. But since it's early, let's have a look at PredictWise. It lists the candidates with their chance to win in percentage terms, rather than odds. PredictWise lists ten candidates before it gets to Mr. Ryan:
1. Jeb Bush (26.2%)
2. Mitt Romney (13.3%)
3. Marco Rubio (12.5%)
4. Rand Paul (11.6%)
5. Scott Walker (8.7%)
6. Chris Christie (6.7%)
7. Ted Cruz (4.9%)
8. Rick Perry (4.3%)
9. Mike Huckabee (3.3%)
10. Bobby Jindal (2.0%)
So it's all settled then, right? Jeb Bush is clearly the frontrunner for the 2016 GOP nomination. Let's move on to the Super Bowl, shall we?
But wait; not so fast. In a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, "Republicans Like Romney More Than Jeb Bush":
More than half (52%) of all Republicans still maintain a positive view of the party’s 2012 nominee, compared to just 37% who said the same about Mr. Bush, the former Florida governor. Mr. Romney does more than 20 percentage points better among self-identified tea party supporters and core Republican voters than does Mr. Bush, who last ran for office in 2002.
(The piece is accompanied by a chart, which I couldn't copy for some reason, which shows Romney leading Bush, 27% to 19%.)
In Real Clear Politics, Mr. Bush again leads all comers by an average of 5.8 percent. But when you look at the early primary states, Mike Huckabee leads the field in Iowa with an average of 6.2 percent and Mr. Bush leads in New Hampshire by only a paper-thin margin:
1. Bush, 14%
2. Christie, 13%
3. Paul, 11.5%
So let me see if I have this straight: if a Christian conservative like Mr. Huckabee (who won Iowa in 2008) or Rick Santorum (who won in 2012) takes the first state and someone like Christie or Paul vaults up into the mid- or high teens in New Hampshire, Bush could find himself 0 for 2 in the early going.
Might that give Reince Priebus a little agita?
Just the other day, the RNC chairman said that he was practically thrilled to have so many good candidates running in 2016 (all emphasis mine):
The good news is we have great potential candidates for president. Our voters are going to have a real choice. Leaders with diverse backgrounds and diverse experiences. We should be excited because this means real debates and real conversations.
I’d much rather have that than what the Democrats have. They’ve got one candidate ready to coronate herself and a sitting VP who’s been running for president since before I could vote.
But two days ago, Priebus indicated that maybe -- just maybe -- the GOP had an embarrassment of riches:
Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee chairman, says that potential presidential contenders will have to poll above certain levels to earn a spot in the GOP debates.
In a radio interview on the "Hugh Hewitt Show" Monday, the conservative host asked Priebus how the debates would work if there were 20 candidates vying to be heard.
“You can’t,” Priebus said. “You can’t do 20 people. … You have to have certain thresholds in place, so you have to be at 1 percent of the vote in Iowa, and that threshold can move like a slide rule based on the proximity to the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primaries, just like it did before.”
Priebus said the thresholds would be determined in coordination between the RNC and the media outlet conducting the debate and that none of the minimum requirements had yet been set.
As Karl Rove wrote in a Wall Street Journal piece last week, "Handicapping the 2016 GOP Primaries":
This is likely to be the most volatile, unpredictable Republican contest most Americans have ever seen. Get your scorecards and popcorn: The race has begun.
I like Mr. Rove's enthusiasm. But I think it will be the Democrats who will be munching on popcorn while Republicans are biting their fingernails.
Don't be too surprised if the GOP race ends up a little like the barroom brawl scene in the above clip from Dodge City, with Mr. Priebus in the role of the chorus girl at about 4:35:
"Stop it you fools! Stop it I say! Stop it!"