A week from now, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is expected to formally announce his candidacy for the White House. When that happens, the Republican field will stand at 16.
We could try to assort that bunch top-to-bottom, from the front of the train to the caboose.
Here's another way of looking at it: 16 candidates as four groups of four. As such, here are my four, four-candidate "brackets":
2 BRACKET ONE NON-CONFORMISTS
1. Donald Trump
2. Ted Cruz
3. Carly Fiorina
4. Ben Carson
They're the ones the media love to cover - some because they don't miss a chance to chastise Hillary Clinton (that would be Fiorina); others because they've made fellow Republicans (Trump), the nation's capital(Cruz) or political correctness (Carson) their punching bags. And, in the case of those latter two, reporters know that playing up Trump and Cruz gives GOP insiders heartburn.
I rank these four in this order because: (1) for now, at least, it's the summer of Donald; (2) Cruz's second-quarter money haul was impressive (not as good as Jeb Bush's but better than Marco Rubio's); (3) while Fiorina gets good reviews on the trail, she needs to build beyond Hillary-bashing (and step up her fundraising); (4) Carson finds the non-politician space a lot more crowded than it was this spring.
BRACKET TWO COUNT (ON US) TO 270
1. Jeb Bush
2. Marco Rubio
3. John Kasich
4. Chris Christie
They're the ones who'll go into a room of high-end donors and explain how they can win a national election. It's a real politick conversation having to do with Florida, Ohio and the notion of winning in blue states (Christie's forte).
I rank these in this order because: (1) Money can't buy love, but it gives Bush a formidable machine; (2) Rubio could shine on the debate stage if there's time for him to show off his policy chops; (3) Kasich would seem a beneficiary if Bush or Rubio stumble; (4) it's a tough terrain for Christie.
Ideology doesn't define this group of candidates, as it does the next bracket. And that would be . . .
BRACKET THREE THE RIGHT STUFF
1. Scott Walker
2. Rick Perry
3. Lindsey Graham
4. Rick Santorum
Before you tear into me, after seeing the #3 seed in this bracket . . . yes, I know Graham takes a lot of heat from the right. However, I've placed him here because he's trying to brand himself as the biggest hawk in the field. As for the other three, each represents at least one other pillar of conservatism: individual rights and curbing government (Walker); deregulation/economic growth (Perry); faith and values (Santorum). I rank these four in this order because: (1) of all the candidates in the field, Walker may be the one best positioned to win two or more of the first four primaries; (2) Perry may be this field's undervalued stock; (3) Graham may not get far once the voting begins, but each week he gets a hanging curveball (ISIS, the Iran deal, etc.); (4) Santorum, Iowa's winner in 2012, wants to more than a pro-life candidate.
And that leaves us with . . .
BRACKET FOUR TRYING TO MAKE THE CUT
1. Mike Huckabee
2. Rand Paul
3. Bobby Jindal
4. George Pataki
Life isn't always fair; neither is presidential politics. Put 16 names on the ballot and someone has to be at a disadvantage.
I rank these four in this order because: (1) Huckabee, though the Iowa winner back in 2008, isn't the same novelty repeating the magic will be difficult; (2) Paul, despite the libertarian base, has a foreign-policy record that may be too big an albatross to shed; (3) Jindal struggles to find a niche in a field that soon will be eight-governors-deep; (4) Pataki is the the GOP's plover - relying on Trump (daring The Donald to an immigration debate in New Hampshire) for his media sustenance.
A final note about the four brackets. You could place Walker in the 270 set, as part of his appeal is potential strength in the Upper Midwest. Carson, Huckabee and Santorum all rely on their personal faith as a cornerstone of their message that's three-fourths of a bracket right there (Perry, vintage 2012, would be the fourth). You can could put four contenders Huckabee, Paul, Perry and Santorum into a "carry-over" bracket from previous elections (the younger Paul standing in for his father).
And if the field grows beyond 2016?
Maybe we start looking at "play-in" candidates.
Or, give it a few more weeks, when the field's swelled to 32.
• 07/10/15: Hillary And The Media: No Mutual Admiration, But Mutually Beneficial?
• 07/08/15: The Sixties . . . In 2016?
• 07/03/15: Four 4th Observations
• 07/02/15: Should Jeb Play A Trump Card?
• 07/01/15: Christie Almighty?
• 06/15/15: Did Hillary Flunk A History Lesson?
• 06/11/15: Thursday Candidates Quiz
• 06/10/15: First Best Second Choice
• 06/08/15: Game of Inches
• 06/03/15: The Power Of Narrative Politics
• 06/01/15: Sorting The Republicans' 2016 Kingdom
• 05/28/15: To Command Without Having Served
• 05/21/15: 2016: Do Looks Matter?
• 05/15/15: John Bolton's Swan Song
Reprinted from Forbes.com