After fielding a crop of contenders in 2012 that most observers viewed as less-than-overwhelming (given that at various times Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Rick [oops!] Perry, and even Herman Cain were temporary frontrunners), the Republicans have been expecting a much more formidible group for 2016 and beyond.
And, certainly, the potential is there.
- Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin. It's traditional to consider the vice presidential nominee as at least a nominal initial frontrunner, although it's been since 1988 that a Republican has actually won the nomination from that spot. Even if he had not been picked, Ryan would have been considered a major contender, but his VP run may actually make Ryan less likely to run in 2016 since, while he got high marks, he certainly didn't take command of the stage.
- Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida. Many think Rubio would have been a better pick for Mitt Romney than Ryan, but one never knows how things would have played out. There's some sense that Rubio could be another Sarah Palin ... as in, better in concept than in reality.
- Gov. Bobby Jindal, Louisiana. Like Ryan, Jindal is a super-smart and articulate conservative. He also seems to be interested in making 2016 noises right away. Jindal has actual accomplishments and is a better candidate than he came across in his stumbling national debut.
- Gov. Chris Christie, New Jersey. Christie has to get reelected in 2013 before he could focus on a 2016 effort, and his post-Sandy embrace of President Obama created a problematic visual, even if the reaction was overblown. Whatever chances he had were dependent on his rock-star status, and that is now dimmed.
- Gov. Bob McDonnell, Virginia. Is the fact that his state has been electing Democrats in every election except his own a positive or a negative?
- Gov.-Elect Mike Pence, Indiana. Pence is a long-time favorite of the conservative movement, but the white-bread middle-aged midwesterner might have a hard time going up against the younger and savvier set. That being said, sometimes white bread has its moment.
- Former Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida. Of course, the Old Guard always has a standard-bearer, but even if Bush were inclined (which seems unlikely), he would face a lot of obstacles. If he had won the Florida governorship in 1994, history might have been different. But he didn't. Most will be content to leave the Bush years as part of the past.
- Former Gov. Mike Huckabee, Arkansas. Huck is getting minimal buzz, but he knows how to communicate to the exact downscale southeastern Ohio voters who didn't turn out for Romney. If he makes a run, he could surprise.
- Former Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania. He is underrated, and may be likely to make another run, but his good fortune in 2012 is unlikely to be duplicated. He was mostly the last guy left.
- Gov. Susana Martinez, New Mexico. Martinez checks all the boxes, but doesn't seem interested in "going national."
- Sen. John Thune, South Dakota. He probably had his best shot in 2012, and he chose not to take it.
- Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire. Not at all likely to run in 2016, but the GOP loves having a pro-life woman who is not fodder for late-night comics, so her star will keep rising.