Nate Cohn of The Upshot decided to frame his table-setter for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination contest as contrary to the CW that it’s a “wide-open race” characterized by “chaos.” He then undermines that interpretation by offering an analytical structure so complicated that “chaos” might be a relief. But it’s all very well-wrought and interesting.
Like a lot of observers, Nate views Jeb Bush and Scott Walker as the front-runners, with Marco Rubio the most likely rival to replace one of them if they falter. He’s a bit ambivalent as to whether Jeb should already be viewed as the winner of the “invisible primary” or just the closest we have to one; the distinction will likely be determined by the extent to which Jeb can convert his popularity among donors to endorsements from the party leaders who usually move in concert with them. Nate doesn’t say this, but Bush’s success in the endorsement game may in turn depend on the general election polls that so far have undermined Jeb’s electability claims.
As for the rest of the field, Nate views them largely as “factional favorites”:: probably not threats to win the nomination, but certainly candidates who can upset others’ apple carts.
A strong Mr. Cruz or Mr. Huckabee — or even a Mr. Carson — would be bad news for Scott Walker in Iowa, where evangelicals and self-identified “very conservative” voters make up around half of the likely electorate. A strong Mr. Paul or Mr. Christie could pose a problem for Mr. Bush, who probably needs a strong showing in New Hampshire. And just about every new entry in the race is bad news for Mr. Rubio, who needs to carve out a base in a deeply factionalized party.
So maybe the contest is best characterized as chaos with rules. We have a better idea of how this or that event could affect the competition than how likely it is that this or that event will occur. Could be a wild ride.