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Now that Scott Walker’s in the race, with John Kasich on tap for next week, the GOP’s 2016 field soon will total 16 presidential candidates. We can rank them, 1-16. Or go by tiers. Or pick names out of a hat. My choice: divide the field into four brackets, four candidates apiece, which I’ve done in this column over at Forbes.com.
Bracket One — The Non-Conformists
1. Donald Trump
2. Ted Cruz
3. Carly Fiorina
4. Ben Carson
My rationale: (1) Trump gets the top seed because, for better or worse, it’s been the summer of Donald (sorry, George Constanza); (2) Cruz is coming off a second-quarter money haul that was pretty impressive; (3) Carly’s wowing them on the trail, but she needs to build the brand beyond Hillary smackdowns (that, and step up the fundraising); (4) Carson is holding steady in most polls, but the non-politician space is a lot more crowded than it was this spring, when he announced.
Bracket Two — Count (On Us) to 270
1. Jeb Bush
2. Marco Rubio
3. John Kasich
4. Chris Christie
I rank this group (committed to the proposition of life, liberty, and the pursuit of swing states) in this order because: (1) Money can’t buy Jeb love, but it gives him quite the machine; (2) Rubio shines given the chance to tell his family’s life story and flash his policy chops; (3) If Bush or Rubio falter, Kasich would seem the logical beneficiary; (4) as a candidate going for broke (and maybe going broke) in New Hampshire, Christie’s running in a tough terrain.
Bracket Three — The Right Stuff
1. Scott Walker
2. Rick Perry
3. Lindsey Graham
4. Rick Santorum
Ok, ok, I know Graham drives some conservative nuts, but he’s attempting to brand himself as the biggest hawk in the field. National security is one pillar of conservatism, as are individual rights and curbing government (Walker’s shtick); deregulation/economic growth (Perry’s); and faith and values (Santorum’s).
As for the order of this bracket: (1) I believe Walker is the one candidate in the GOP field best positioned to win early and often; (2) I consider Perry something of an undervalued stock; (3) Graham’s stuck in the back of the pack, but each week he gets a hanging curveball (ISIS, the Iran deal, etc.); (4) Santorum, Iowa’s winner in 2012 and perhaps one of the odd-men-out for the Fox News debate, wants to be more than a pro-life candidate.
Bracket Four — Trying To Make The Cut
1. Mike Huckabee
2. Rand Paul
3. Bobby Jindal
4. George Pataki
These would be the victims in the numbers game — too many candidates, too little space. They’re seeded this way because: (1) Huckabee no longer is a novel act — though still a force in Iowa, repeating 2008’s magic will be difficult; (2) Paul, despite the family name and libertarian base, has a foreign-policy record that may be too big of an albatross; (3) Jindal struggles to find a niche with seven other governors a-runnin’; (4) Pataki is the GOP’s plover, feeding off Trump (for example, daring The Donald to an immigration debate in New Hampshire).
This bracket isn’t scientific, nor is it set in cement. You could place Walker in the 270 bracket, as part of his appeal is strength in the Upper Midwest. Carson, Huckabee, and Santorum all talk about their personal faith. Add Perry, vintage 2008, and there’s a new four-man bracket. Just as Huckabee, Paul, Perry, and Santorum could go into a “carry-over” bracket of past candidates (the younger Paul standing in for his father).
Stay tuned for when the field swells to 32 and we have another four brackets to fill.