The departure of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker from the 2016 presidential campaign helps to answer the question of who won’t win the GOP nomination, but with 15 candidates remaining, it’s a challenge to get a good feel for where the race stands now and where it might go from here.
The New York Times helps to clarify the issue with its look at who it believes is winning at the moment, developed by looking at a variety of factors including polls, endorsements, money raised, and prediction markets.
The polls get most of the attention, but they’re not the most important part of the early stages of a presidential campaign. The better guide to who’s really winning is known as the “invisible primary,” in which candidates compete for support from their fellow politicians, from party leaders and from donors.
A candidate who wins the invisible primary usually wins the party nomination. At the least, the eventual nominee tends to be a candidate who was a close runner-up. Why? The support of party leaders is both a sign of a candidate’s long-term strength and a source of future strength.
As for the polls, they’re not irrelevant, even at this early stage. But the national polls matter less than the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states to vote and the states where voters are paying more attention to the candidates.
The conclusion of the Times piece is that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is the most likely Republican nominee. Factors contributing to Bush’s lead include his lead in national endorsements, fundraising, and prediction markets, where he is ranked No. 1. Less solid is his ranking in the Iowa and New Hampshire polls, where he’s currently in fifth and sixth place, respectively.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is ranked No. 2, owing to his high position in the prediction markets (second) and fundraising (third). He finishes fifth in Iowa polls and doesn’t appear in the top five for New Hampshire polls or endorsements.
Businessman Donald Trump, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and businesswoman Carly Fiorina round out the top five based on their strong showing in the Iowa and New Hampshire polls, where they hold the top three spots, as well as in the prediction markets where they are in third place (a tie between Fiorina and Trump) and fifth place for Carson. Fiorina holds the seventh-place spot in terms of endorsements while Trump and Carson are in 11th place on this metric. Fiorina lags in fundraising with an 11th-place showing (Trump is 12th, but that’s not really relevant for a self-funding candidate), while Carson’s seventh-place position in fundraising puts him solidly in the middle.
Looking outside the top five, three candidates appear well positioned for the future. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz appears in the top five for endorsements (fourth), Iowa polls (third) and fundraising (second), while he sits just outside the top five in prediction markets (seventh) and New Hampshire polls (sixth).
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (third in New Hampshire polls, fifth in endorsements) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (third in endorsements, fourth in fundraising) also show some strength in the polls, but also some serious weakness – Kasich is tenth in Iowa polls while Christie is currently in 11th in Iowa and ninth in New Hampshire. Despite this, Christie is actually ahead of both Cruz and Kasich in the overall rankings, finishing sixth followed by Cruz in seventh place and Kasich in eighth.
At the other end of the field, the question on the minds of some concerns which candidate is likely to be the next to drop out. The Politico Caucus, a group of Iowa and New Hampshire political insiders assembled by the media outlet, seeks to answer the question this morning, with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former New York Gov. George Pataki at the top of the list:
Bobby Jindal and George Pataki are the next two quitters in the Republican field…
A quarter of Iowa Republicans say it’s Jindal, a frequent visitor to their state, who is on his way out.
"He's become desperate," an Iowa Republican said. "He's taken to attacking Trump (we know how that worked out for Perry and Walker) and has nothing going on here in Iowa."
Added another, who like all participants was granted anonymity in order to speak freely: "He's taken the hard inside right lane, and there's simply too much competition there (Cruz, Huckabee, Santorum)."
Jindal may be the pick in Iowa, but Pataki seems to be the choice in New Hampshire:
But in New Hampshire, Pataki is considered most likely to drop out next, with 27 percent of Republican insiders there pointing to him.
"There comes a point when his irrelevance becomes crystal clear even to him," a New Hampshire Republican said.
GOP political insiders in the two states split on who was most likely to depart the race next, but there seemed to be a consensus on who was second most likely – Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who some predicted will have to face a choice soon on whether to abandon his presidential bid in order to focus on a re-election bid to the Senate.
Fundraising totals for the candidates will start to leak out toward the end of next week, likely launching another round of speculation and rethinking over who’s on top and who’s ready to exit. Until then, this seems to be the state of the GOP race, with those not mentioned presumably lurking somewhere in the middle between the leaders and the laggards, neither winning nor losing.