We tend to rate candidates as being “first” or “second” tier based on their national recognition, their ability to raise money, and their propensity to capture a decent amount of support in any given primary poll. Now that Mitt Romney is out for 2016, what does it do to the field of candidates? Here is my own assessment, with which you’re sure to argue, of where we currently sit on the GOP side.
Jeb Bush – As far as criteria goes, Bush meets all three. He’s got the recognition, the ability to raise money, and leads in many polls. He’s in the top tier without question.
Scott Walker – A new arrival to this level of national politics is Scott Walker. With mentions by Rush Limbaugh following a well-received speech in Iowa, Walker is now elbowing out a spot in the top tier. He’s got an ability to bridge the grassroots and establishment wings but my fear is he’s peaking too early and may get knocked down by other candidates.
Chris Christie – Barely holding on to this designation given his recent difficulties but he still maintains recognition, money in the bank, and good support in the polls. Plus, he’s an establishment favorite which could be the tie-breaker when it comes to fund raising.
Not Quite First Tier
Here is where it gets tricky and very subjective. I’ll lay out an argument for each candidate and you can feel free to dispute me.
Rand Paul – This is a tough one as Paul straddles the line. In fact, four or five months ago, I’d have called him top tier without reservation. However, the emergence of foreign policy as a brimming topic coupled with Paul’s inability to capture the limelight has bumped him down a notch.
Ted Cruz – Cruz could be arguably first or second tier depending on who you ask. He’s got a long way to go in terms of fund raising though he has massive Tea Party and grassroots support. His status is in limbo and could move up or down depending on how the race shakes out.
Marco Rubio – Rubio is close to brimming into the top tier status given how well he was received at the Koch brothers forum in January. Apparently he impressed many big name donors which would serve him well in the fund raising category. Unfortunately he misses the mark when it comes to the poll numbers right now.
Mike Huckabee – Huckabee meets many of the top tier criteria but I just can’t bring myself to put him there. He plays well in the south and some early primary states but he will have a tough time raising the money from big donors, which he proved in 2008. Due to that limitation alone, he’s peaked as a second tier candidate.
Ben Carson – Carson does well in many polls but his status as a non-politician and lack of recognition leaves him squarely in the second tier for now.
I didn’t mention Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal or John Kasich, because I see them bringing up the rear as a low second tier or third stringers. There are others as well but they’re barely cracking one percent of average polling so why waste the typing? Perry, Kasich, and Jindal have potential to move up in the field as time goes on.