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Krauthammer: Handicapping the GOP’s Oval Office Derby

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WASHINGTON – With Ted Cruz announcing and Rand Paul and Marco Rubio soon to follow, it’s time to start handicapping the presidential horse race and making enemies with the first edition of our 2016 Oval Office Tip Sheet.

No point in wasting time on the Democratic field. There is none. The only thing that can stop Hillary Clinton is an act of God, and God seems otherwise occupied. As does Elizabeth Warren, the only Democrat who could conceivably defeat Hillary. So it’s on to the GOP.

FIRST TIER:

1. Marco Rubio. Trails badly in current polls, ranking seventh at 5 percent, but has high upside potential.

Assets: Foreign policy looms uncharacteristically large in the current cycle, and Rubio is currently the most knowledgeable and fluent contender on everything from Russia to Cuba to the Middle East. The son of Cuban immigrants, he can break into flawless Spanish (so can Jeb Bush) and speak passionately about the American story in a party that lost the Hispanic vote by 44 points in 2012.

Liabilities (in the primaries): His Gang of Eight immigration apostasy, though his current enforcement-first position has wide appeal. And after Barack Obama, will voters want another first-term senator with no executive experience? (Same for Cruz and Paul.)

Major appeal: Fresh, young, dynamic persona is a powerful counterpoint to Clinton fatigue. Odds: 3-1.

2. Jeb Bush. The consensus favorite (though I remain a bit skeptical). Solid, soft-spoken, serious, with executive experience and significant achievements as governor. What he lacks in passion, he makes up for in substance. And he has shown backbone in sticking to his semi-heretical positions on immigration and Common Core.

Obvious liability: His name. True, it helps him raise tens of millions of dollars, but it saddles him with legacy and dynastic issues that negate the inherent GOP advantage of running a new vs. old/not-again campaign against Hillary. Odds: 7-2.

3. Scott Walker. A fine record of conservative achievement. Has shown guts and leadership in taking on labor unions and winning three elections (five if you count proxy elections) against highly energized Democrats.

Good, rousing speech in Iowa, but has stumbled since, flubbing routine questions on evolution and patriotism, then appearing to compare the Islamic State to Wisconsin demonstrators. Rookie mistakes and easily forgotten – if he learns from them.

Pandered on ethanol and fired a staffer who complained about Iowa’s unwarranted influence. Sure, everyone panders to Iowa, but Walker’s calling card is standing up to pressure. Most encouraging sign: ability to maintain altitude after meteoric rise. Numbers remain steady. And his speeches continue to impress. Odds: 4-1.

Second Tier:

4. Chris Christie. Some politicians have their one moment. Christie might have missed his in 2012 when his fearless in-your-face persona was refreshingly new. Over time, however, in-your-face can wear badly. That plus Bridgegate cost him traction and dropped him out of the first tier. Biggest problem: being boxed out ideologically and financially by Jeb Bush for the starting gate slot assigned to a relatively moderate governor with cross-the-aisle appeal. Odds: 12-1.

5. Ted Cruz. Grand, florid campaign launch with matching rhetoric. Straightforward base-oriented campaign. Has developed a solid following. Could break out, especially in debate. Odds: 15-1.

6. Mike Huckabee. Great name recognition, affable, popular. But highly identified with social/cultural issues; how far can that carry him beyond Iowa and evangelicals? Odds: 15-1.

7. Rand Paul. Events have conspired against him. Obama’s setbacks and humiliations abroad have created a national mood less conducive to Paul’s non-interventionism. His nearly 13-hour anti-drone filibuster would not fly today. Is trying to tack back, even signing the 47-senator letter opposing the Obama administration’s potential nuclear deal with Iran. Strong youth appeal, though outreach to minorities less successful thus far. Bottom line: High floor of devoted libertarians; low ceiling in today’s climate. Odds: 30-1.

Longer Shots:

8. Carly Fiorina. Getting her footing. Given current societal taboos, she is best placed to attack Hillary and has done so effectively. Can she do a Huckabee 2008 and, through debates, vault to the first tier? Unlikely. But because she’s talented and disciplined, not impossible. Odds: 50-1.

9. Ben Carson. Polling high, but he’s a novice making cringe-worthy gaffes such as his declarations on the origins of Islam and on gay choice (“a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight – and when they come out they’re gay”). And not knowing that the Baltic States are in NATO. Truly good man, brilliant doctor, great patriot. But not ready for the big leagues. Chance of winning? Zero.

Others:

Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and John Kasich – all still below the radar. If they surface, they’ll be featured in the next edition of the Tip Sheet.

Charles Krauthammer’s column is distributed by The Washington Post Writers Group.

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