Earlier this week, CNN asked me to write an op-ed on Ted Cruz, and whether he’s a realistic contender for the presidency.  My reaction: Of course he is — but probably not in 2016.  And for that matter, neither are the Republicans who seem to get the most mention for that position:

No one doubts that Cruz has a bright future in the Republican Party, but that doesn’t mean the future is now.

Cruz, like Rubio and Rand Paul, have only barely arrived on the national stage and are many years younger than their sell-by date. None of the three has held executive office yet. Both Paul and Cruz have only won one election in their career. All three have made an extraordinary impact as freshmen senators, but they are still mainly untested outside of a single electoral cycle.

Additionally, Republicans have more options: By the time 2015 rolls around and candidates have to commit to a run, a number of GOP governors will be staking out their ground as well.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will almost certainly use his considerable media presence and blunt style to launch the next phase of his career. Scott Walker has to win a re-election bid in Wisconsin in 2014; a win will re-establish his fighting credentials on budgets and reform.

Mike Pence got some attention early in the 2012 cycle as a potential presidential contender, but decided to go home to Indiana to add executive office to his already-impressive conservative credentials. Susana Martinez, who like Cruz was given a featured-speaker slot at the national GOP convention last year, should sail to a 2014 re-election in New Mexico, with approval ratings that have never dropped below 60%.

We can add a couple of other names to that list, too.  Nikki Haley might be a popular choice, and Rick Perry will almost certainly give it another go.  Don’t count out Bobby Jindal, either, who has built a great track record of reform in Louisiana, a state that has infamously resisted it.

Allahpundit posted Larry Sabato’s prediction that Walker would emerge as the front-runner, and I think that’s a relatively safe bet, although not even odds.  I’d guess it will be Walker and Martinez, assuming both win their re-election bids next year.  I very much doubt that the GOP are going to go for a Beltway figure in 2016, or for any Republican from the Northeast again, either.  With the plethora of executive-office holders outside of Washington ready to enter the mix, the Senate freshmen will need to get a little more seasoning before preparing for a presidential bid.