Everyone has a shot.

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Using NCAA Brackets to Predict Republican Presidential Race

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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The college basketball season has begun, and my usually sports-averse wife, a Duke alumna, is wild about the Blue Devils.

She has even devised a variation on the basketball brackets that can be used to evaluate the 2016 Republican presidential field. In the college game, there are bracketologists who try to project the teams that will qualify for the March Madness tournament and where they will be positioned.

Here are the brackets for the Republican contest:

  • The Establishment: former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
  • The Fresh-Face Midwestern Governors: Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio, Rick Snyder of Michigan and Mike Pence of Indiana.
  • The Hard-Right Base-Pleasers: Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
  • The Right-Wing Reach-Outs: Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Ben Carson.

The winners of each bracket presumably would make the first cut and then face off against one another. Much could change, but the early line on the last three brackets is Paul, Cruz and Walker.

However, the establishment bracket, which this hierarchical party has traditionally relied on for its candidates, is up in the air.

The likely winner, according to the conventional establishmentarians, is Bush, the adult in the field. But there are flashing yellow lights if he chooses to run: Although he is well known, he does poorly in many polls; he hasn't faced voters for more than a dozen years and he's rusty and out of practice as a candidate; and his support for Common Core education standards and some measure of immigration reform is anathema to the party's right-wing base.

If Bush runs, Romney won't; he probably won’t, in any case. Christie is almost unmatched as a retail politician, whether it's meeting with grief-stricken Hurricane Sandy victims or rich donors. But his brash in-your-face style won't work as well in the heartland. "Sit down and shut up" doesn't hold up to "We have nothing to fear but fear itself" as political oratory.

It is puzzling that some pundits and a few politicians continue to wonder whether Ryan will run. He is about to assume the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee. Do they think this young lawmaker is going to walk away from leading Congress's most important committee with the most significant agenda?  

In basketball parlance, this entire race is a jump ball.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net