You get the sense from some of the reaction to Mitt Romney’s withdrawal from the 2016 Republican presidential nominating contest that “moderates” Jeb Bush and Chris Christie will now battle it out for Mitt’s money and media backing and then despatch whatever lunatic the conservative movement puts decides upon, just like their forebears did in 2008 and 2012. But the most reliable survey of the first venue of the nominating process, Ann Selzer’s Iowa Poll for Bloomberg and the Des Moines Register, shows both Establishment candidates really struggling there, even as Scott Walker quickly surges on the strength of buzz from his appearance at the Iowa Freedom Summit.

The poll was taken in the days just before Romney’s withdrawal, but via second-choice numbers a projection is made of where the non-Mitt field stands. Walker’s in first place with 16%, Rand Paul’s second with 15%, Huck comes in at 13%, and Ben Carson at 10%. Jebbie finally appears in fifth place with 9%, and Christie’s tied with Ted Cruz in sixth place with 6%. But more importantly, the favorable/unfavorable ratings for Bush are 46/43, and for Christie, 36/54. By contrast, Walker’s at 60/12, Carson’s at 50/12, Huck’s at 66/28, Paul’s at 64/25 and Cruz is at 58/21. After more than a year of relentless support of the most conservative positions available on big public issues, Marco Rubio has rehabilitated himself to a 57/20 ratio in Iowa, though he only has the support of 4% of likely caucus-goers.

In another sign that Walker has already extricated himself from Pawlenty Country in Iowa, he has the highest percentage of “very positive” evaluations. Yet he also tops the poll among those saying they want an “establishment” nominee.

Now Bush and/or Christie could see the handwriting on the wall and skip Iowa. But that would only increase the possibility that someone like Walker could come out of the Caucuses with a head of steam. It’s something to worry about when these gents pause from rattling the cup for campaign dollars.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.