Though it’s frequently been argued that Republicans have a strong field of potential contenders for 2016, a true frontrunner has yet to emerge, either in polls or among the party elites, activists, and interests who will help choose the nominee. No candidate has yet managed to reach even the low bar of 25 percent support in any national poll, and we’re not seeing early endorsements from key party figures (like we’re seeing with Democrats endorsing Hillary Clinton).
Even more importantly, several candidates who had hoped to gain the support of the party’s establishment wing have weakened over the past year, as Jonathan Last argues. Christie’s image was badly hurt by Bridgegate, Marco Rubio hasn’t won back the trust of activists since co-authoring the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill, and Scott Walker is facing a tough reelection in addition to his own investigatory troubles. Meanwhile, Paul Ryan seems to want to stay in the House and chair the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
It’s still possible that one of these candidates could manage to become the establishment choice — especially Christie, as federal prosecutors have reportedly found no evidence tying him to the bridge scandal. But it hasn’t happened yet. Which means Romney has an opening to become the pick of the establishment, or at least a substantial piece of it.