With no obvious heir apparent as the Republican’s 2016 presidential pick, GOP voters are unsure which of the potential 16 candidates they like, choosing “Other/Not Sure” ahead of Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and Sen. Rand Paul in a new poll released Christmas Day.

In the new Zogby Analytics poll, “Other” won with 19 percent, followed by Romney at 14 percent, Bush at 12 percent and Paul at 10 percent.

Among self-identifying Republicans, Mitt took first. Among self-identified conservatives, Bush was first, a surprise considering the number of hard-line right-wingers lining up to oppose his candidacy.

“Jeb’s a good man, a good friend. He was a good governor. You know, him getting in the race, I think, helps the field,” [Rick] Perry told radio host Hugh Hewitt. “I would suggest to you he’s probably, since he said what he said, he’s probably the front-runner at this particular point in time.”

Mr. Bush recently announced he is actively exploring a presidential bid in 2016.

Mr. Perry said he’s opposed to federal Common Core education standards but that he’d allow Mr. Bush — whose support for the standards could rankle some conservative hard-liners — to defend his own position on the issue.

Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee, once told me that, had Bush run in 2012, he might have skipped the race, feeling that Bush might have been a stronger candidate to take on President Obama. It’s doubtful he would have stayed out of 2012 regardless, but it speaks to his assessment then of Bush’s potential as a candidate…

In fundraising, however, Bush will have one potentially significant advantage over the many sitting governors who are looking at running. They are all affected in one way or another by what is known as the “pay to play” rule. This is a Securities and Exchange Commission regulation that prohibits financial institutions whose employees contribute to candidates from doing bond business in those states.

It has made those institutions extremely cautious about political contributions to governors. For governors such as Christie, Walker, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal or Ohio’s John Kasich, this wipes out a potentially lucrative source of fundraising. Bush, as a former governor, isn’t affected. Nor will outgoing Texas governor Rick Perry, whose 2012 bid was hampered by the rule — though that was the least of his problems…

Yet Matthew Dowd, who was a key strategist in both of Bush’s presidential campaigns, noted this Wednesday on Twitter: “Reminder folks: last Bush to run was 40 points ahead, outraised everyone at least 5 to 1, had every endorsement, & nearly lost the nomination.” And that was at a time when the Bush brand was considered a major asset. Today it is more mixed.

Early signs suggest that devotion to the Bush clan may trump newer relationships. Two leading members of Mr. Rubio’s Senate fundraising team—lobbyist Charlie Black and Dirk Van Dongen, the head of a trade association—have suggested they would lean toward the former governor if both men pursued the Republican presidential nomination…

Mr. Christie, who has said he would make a decision on 2016 early next year, has told donors that Mr. Bush’s entry wouldn’t keep him from a presidential run, people familiar with those talks said…

“Donors are definitely torn,” said Bobbie Kilberg, a top Republican donor who worked in the White House for Mr. Bush’s father and remains close with Messrs. Christie and Romney. “Jeb’s smart, strategic action is clearly putting pressure on center-right donors, who did not expect it this early.”…

“The majority of Bush loyalists have held back from early support of other campaigns, waiting to see if Jeb would get in,” said Kirk Blalock, a Republican lobbyist who worked in the White House under George W. Bush. “Many of the Bush loyalists will pick up an oar and start rowing.”

After Bush edged closer to a run last week, the liberal RootsAction group quickly set up a NoBushesorClintons website and began collecting signatures on a “declaration of independence” that pledges to “reject future domination of government by the Bushes and Clintons and by Bush/Clinton-like policies.”

But Princeton historian Julian Zelizer thinks the comfort element might be more important to 2016 voters than any same-old, same-old worries.

“Washington’s broken, and voters and campaign donors are looking for people who seem to know what they’re doing,” he said. “The familiarity of these names becomes a big benefit and counteracts any sense that, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe these are going to be the candidates again.'”…

Cohen, a co-founder of the RootsAction group, said even his non-political friends frequently complain about the dominance of the Bushes and Clintons.

“It’s a source of frustration and it’s broad,” he says, calling the Bushes and Clintons “symbols of a corrupt system and a permanent governing class.”

The contours of the nomination battle and the general election have changed dramatically, but the difficulty of becoming president of the United States remains. Today, would-be presidents have to raise an extraordinary amount of money, and they must fight for the support of “low-information” voters, those whose knowledge of and engagement in the political process is limited. And here, a family dynasty helps: Each aspirant can build on the successes of his or her predecessors.

Take Jeb Bush. He enters the race with an extensive network of wealthy donors cultivated over decades by his father and brother. And his family name is a useful signal for voters who lack the ability or inclination to sort out for themselves which candidate best fits their worldview. Even the least-informed voter has a general sense that the Bushes stand for a relatively expansive social welfare state, a muscular foreign policy, and a reduced tax burden…

So, while the spectacle of another Bush running against another Clinton might make us uneasy, it really should not. It has little to do with creeping elitism, the decaying republican character of the government, or a monarchical impulse in the people. Rather, it is rooted in the practical realities of politics: Running for president is awfully hard; it is less hard for some candidates; and parties naturally gravitate to such candidates…

Far from fretting about what Jeb’s putative candidacy means for the republic, conservatives should welcome him to the fray. More candidates should mean a better debate about the country’s future, and maybe in the end a better nominee.

Bush will no doubt have the money to assemble a strong media and digital campaign. But he’s also rusty, and that opens the presumptive GOP front-runner to the kinds of early campaign trail flubs that his advisers will be working hard to avoid.

“He’s going to be out of practice. No matter what you do, whether it’s playing piano, shooting basketball or doing campaign work, you’ve got to get back into practice,” said Stevens, who also worked on the George W. Bush 2000 and Romney 2008 campaigns and now lives in New Hampshire.

Mindy Finn, a digital GOP operative who has worked for George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, said Jeb Bush is entering a dangerous media environment in dealing with “how quickly a small issue can become a big issue and kind of take over a campaign.” Bush’s status as a favorite of the establishment wing of the party also makes him an inviting target for lower-tier candidates to take on through social media…

Some Democratic operatives believe Bush will be eaten alive on social media by his antagonists on the right. But allies of the former governor say he’ll be fine, especially with the help of a resurgent party infrastructure that demonstrated in 2014 that it is just as capable of using all the data, digital advertising and get-out-the-vote microtargeting that Obama used to great effect.

Bush can survive the pressure from the right in the primaries. All the speculation as to whether someone like him will be done in by the Tea Party in primaries is vastly overblown. Most importantly, other than on immigration reform and education policy, Bush is a conservative and has a record to prove it…

While his conservative record will be sufficient to counteract Tea Party frustration, Bush will be able to sell himself as part of a Republican cohort that is seeking to bring new people into the Republican fold and who is sensitive to the ways in which social and cultural issues have changed where the party stands on these issues…

Finally there is the question of Bush fatigue. The biggest obstacle that Jeb Bush faces is his last name. The controversial ending of George W. Bush’s presidency and his terrible popularity ratings were a shadow that loomed over another Bush candidacy. But, especially in the short-attention span politics of the U.S., 2008 is a long time ago.

The intense controversy over President Obama has redirected much of the political heat toward the Democratic leader, while the traditional waves of nostalgia about the last president have started to set in. Continued problems with foreign policy and the economy, as well as the extension of much of the homeland security program under President Obama, has undercut some of the claims that Bush was wholly to blame for the problems that bothered Americans. The success of the Tea Party at shifting the GOP further to the right allows Bush’s supporters to claim that the previous Republican president was not as extreme as his critics said.

Why nominate this man? The most common explanation: His widely perceived alternative, grassroots favorite, Ted Cruz, cannot win. Cruz, establishment Republicans say, polarizes instead of unifying; he alienates rather than attracting. But that notion springs, once again, from “The Price Is Right” strategy: If the middle voter is your target, Cruz isn’t your man. But the middle voter was Mitt Romney’s target in 2012, and he got him — Romney won independents 50-45, but lost the election by five million votes. The middle voter was John McCain’s target, too — so much so that McCain considered naming Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman as his running mate. He lost decisively, too.

Will Ted Cruz lose more decisively than either of his predecessors? That’s a possibility. But margin of loss is significantly less important than the direction of the political narrative. Party insiders see the 1964 nomination of right-wing Barry Goldwater as a massive defeat. Those outside the party infrastructure see it for what it was: a ground shift in Republican politics that led to the rise of Ronald Reagan. Better to nominate someone who will change the conversation and lose than someone who will reinforce that the parties stand for the same tired politics of failure.

Or, perhaps, Cruz doesn’t lose at all. Perhaps it turns out that voters are driven by vision and passion rather than bromides from the Yorks and Lancasters of American politics. Perhaps Ted Cruz, or someone like him, actually animates people rather than treating them like widgets to be manipulated by those born to the purple. Perhaps politics isn’t “The Price Is Right.”

Jeb Bush, folks, will never oppose any of this. In fact, he will become beholden to the process, just like the most recent generation of presidents before him (two of which were his kin).

Thus, the path forward for conservatives is clear: If this man becomes the GOP nominee because the party apparatus spends whatever it takes to beat back any and all conservative challengers, the conservative base should take that as a sign they are no longer wanted, or needed, in today’s post-constitutional Republican Party.

That will probably lead to a fracturing of the party and, perhaps, its eventual dissolution, the way the Whig Party dissolved in the mid-1800’s, in the run-up to the Civil War. Northern Whigs hated slavery and wanted it vanquished; Southern Whigs did not. The former wound up joining a newly created Republican Party and helped elect Abraham Lincoln as president; the latter simply vanished.

When that fracture becomes pronounced enough to tear the party asunder is subject to speculation, of course. But what is already crystal clear is that the fracture is evident, and growing. The conservative wing of the party differs from the establishment wing over immigration, federal power, health care, taxes and foreign policy; there isn’t much room to find middle ground anymore, and certainly not enough for conservatives to once again abandon their principles in the face of a GOP Establishment that won’t budge from positions that basically mimic those of the Democrats.

[O]ur holiday message to Republican primary voters is simple: Take your time before making your choice. Take a good look at all the candidates. Don’t rule individuals in or out because of your own or others’ preconceptions, or because pundits say this or donors say that or the media say God-knows-what. Give each of the candidates a chance to make his or her case, and don’t rush to make up your mind either about who has the best chance to win or who would do best at governing…

So, channeling Thomas Paine, we say to John Bolton, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, Pete King, Mike Pence, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rick Santorum, Joe Scarborough, Scott Walker, and Allen West: “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” Each of you would be a better president than Hillary Clinton. You would deserve the thanks of man and woman if you beat her. And if your name is not on this list, don’t feel slighted. Rather, feel free to volunteer. Dick Cheney, Tom Cotton, Mitch Daniels, Joni Ernst, Newt Gingrich, and Rudy Giuliani—you’re also more ready than Hillary. If you think you’re the right person … go for it.

Some may say we’re taking “the more the merrier” to ridiculous lengths. Perhaps. But the winnowing process, once it begins in late 2015, will be merciless. The field will narrow soon enough. So while Democrats face the prospect of a forced march to a lackluster coronation, Republicans, at least for the next several months, can let a hundred flowers bloom.