Audio: Tom Coburn unhappy with nearly everyone in GOP field -- except Rubio

Via BuzzFeed, I once called him the most honest man in Washington. If you doubted that, just listen. Offhand I can’t think of any other recently retired pol who’d be this frank about the chances of top contenders in his own party, many of whom he knows personally. Jeb Bush? Can’t get elected. Rick Perry? A fine man. Not capable of being president. Rand Paul? Wouldn’t vote for him in the general election. Most interestingly, Scott Walker:

Coburn said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is “not ready for primetime in my opinion.” He said Walker didn’t win the recall election in 2012 but “Republicans around the country did it for him.”

That’s a rare case of one big-name Republican who’s deeply respected by conservatives being utterly dismissive of another. He likes Rubio the most, but also interestingly seems bullish on Carly Fiorina even as he dismisses Rick Santorum as a guy who can’t get elected. Does that mean he thinks Fiorina has a shot to make waves? Hmmmm.

He likes Huckabee too, which tells me he’s approaching the race the way most voters do, not so much from a “which candidate is most like me” or “which candidate is most ideologically pure” perspective as a “which candidate do I like most” one. That’s the common thread between Rubio, Fiorina, and Huckabee — they’re all conspicuously good, even by the standards of presidential contenders, at connecting with audiences. Coburn has his eye on electability here (note the Bush comments) and evidently values retail skills highly. Anyway, since we’re spitballing about 2016, let me ask you a question — and I ask this not in the spirit of my previous trolling on the subject but earnestly. Don’t you think Romney’s probably watching all of this — the field ballooning, Jeb Bush flailing — and thinking the nomination’s ripe for the plucking? That’s why John Kasich is getting in, and Kasich has a tiny fraction of Romney’s name recognition nationally. The thinking last year was that Romney had been weakened by defeat in 2012 and that if the establishment was going to keep some right-wing insurgent from the nomination, their best bet was a well-funded guy named Bush. But, months later, Jeb’s polls still haven’t soared; on the contrary, they’ve gotten worse as he’s struggled to answer basic questions about Iraq. Meanwhile, with something like 15 people likely to be competing in Iowa, Romney probably jump in, probably lock down 20 percent of the vote by virtue of sheer familiarity, and quite possibly win the caucuses with that level of support as the rest of the caucus electorate splinters.

The only thing that would give him pause is the risk of blowing up a younger pol who’d otherwise be broadly acceptable to Romneyworld as nominee and who might be more electable than Mitt is. That’s Rubio. If, as pretty much everyone agrees (I hope), Rubio would give Hillary more of a run for her money than Romney 6.0 would, then Mitt has a dilemma: Jump in and place personal ambition above what’s best for the party or put what’s best for the party ahead of his own dream? Hmmmmm.