If there’s one thing the pundits seems to be pretty sure about it’s that the GOP primary will end up being Marco Rubio vs. someone not named Donald Trump (Thank Odin). Allahpundit already wrote about the potential Rubio vs. Ted Cruz ladder match and how that’d really be a good thing for the GOP.

What sort of conservative doesn’t respect Ted Cruz? Would Trump fans? Not all, but for many Cruz will be an acceptably anti-establishment populist consolation prize. Center-righties? Of course. There’s no one in either field as likable as center-right Marco Rubio. Establishmentarians? You betcha. Not only will they have a guy in Rubio who went to bat for them on amnesty, they’ll have not one but two Latino candidates left standing to represent the party after Trump spent months ranting about Mexican rapists. And not just Latino but young — both Cruz and Rubio are just 44 years old. They’re both charismatic, highly intelligent, and preternaturally polished in their public speaking. Who wouldn’t enjoy this race?

It would certainly be an entertaining match up, but there are still questions as to whether the more libertarian and conservatarian voters will be willing to support Cruz with his cozying up to Trump. Voters should also ask themselves whether Cruz is more valuable in the Senate where he can stay closely aligned with Mike Lee and Rand Paul if the latter doesn’t secure the GOP nomination. Those three do do an excellent job at bringing up “freedom and liberty” issues, so their impact on the GOP (and the country) long-term may be better in the Senate. Cruz isn’t up for re-election until 2018 where he’ll probably face either Julian or Joaquin Castro. With his popularity in Texas, it might be better for Cruz to stay in the Senate just in case.

There are others who believe Rubio will have to square-off against Carly Fiorina. Robert Tracinski at The Federalist is pretty sure Fiorina will keep coming on strong due to her outsider status and her knowledge of foreign policy issues.

In this context, Rubio and Fiorina did not need to send out zingers about how we don’t need an “apprentice” in the White House. They were showing us who is really prepared to take the reins of American foreign policy. The same pattern applied on other issues, not just foreign policy, and it explains why Fiorina and Rubio are the candidates who broke out in the polls afterward. They were the ones who earned it.

Maybe, maybe not. It’s true Fiorina and Rubio are doing well in the polls, but those polls tend to be pretty finicky. Two post debate polls have Trump either in second behind Ben Carson or ahead of Fiorina. This doesn’t count the Mackinac Island, Michigan Republican Leadership Conference straw poll which had Rand Paul as the winner with Fiorina second. But the same questions about whether a non-elected official should get the GOP nomination should dog Fiorina, as much as they dog Trump and Carson. Remember, American voters have only elected four U.S. presidents who didn’t previously hold electoral office and none of them were from the business sector. Voters tend to go for people who have more government experience than less, unless your name’s Barack Obama and you face John McCain.

That line of thinking is why DrewM over at Ace of Spades thinks it’ll be Jeb Bush who will eventually be the one to challenge, and defeat, Rubio.

So we will see a repeat of 2012…flavors of the month rising and falling. Meanwhile the establishment favorite, loaded down with cash will just bump along watching the grassroots challengers come and go. He’ll deep into his war chest every now and then to help the more stubborn ones along their path to oblivion with a well placed negative ad or two thousand.

Which brings me to your next objection:

“Ah but you forget…RUBIO!”

Yes, Rubio.

Sure Jeb is more pro-amnesty than Rubio is but Rubio is the only to cut a deal with Schumer-Reid-Obama-McCain on it. A deal even Rubio says was a mistake.
Not only will the hit be about immigration but Rubio’s lack of experience. “How can you trust my good friend Marco to deal with Putin when by his own admission he was rolled by Obama and the Senate Democrats on immigration? Now, when I was Governor of Florida…..”

It’s going to be Jeb. The GOP is gonna GOP.

Drew makes a good point, even if it appears Rubio is the first one to pounce on the carcass of Scott Walker’s campaign. Bush does have money, even if he’s got the Bush name attached and is highly unpopular with “the base.” Erick Erickson may write Bush donors are casting a thoughtful eye towards Rubio, but it doesn’t mean they’re not just coming up with contingency plans in case Bush doesn’t work out. Rubio’s already said he’s not running for re-election in the Senate; so it’s “president (or vice president) or bust” for Rubio. If Bush ends up being the nominee, Rubio probably won’t be his running mate because of the 12th Amendment and the electoral college. Politifact argues nothing is stopping Bush from naming Rubio his running mate, but it’s a pretty complicated answer.

The fact is, no one knows who the nominee will be because it’s still early. Yes, there have been two debates and Rick Perry and Scott Walker have already dropped out. But the actual votes don’t start getting cast until next year. Candidates are going to have to play the long game for the primaries, then focus on the general election. While Rubio/Trump/Fiorina/Cruz may be the hot picks now, everything could change by next year. Just shows how “fun” politics can be and how hard it is to prognosticate.