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Your Republican Tip Sheet: Buy, Sell or Hold?

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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With almost six weeks until the Iowa caucuses and seven weeks to the New Hampshire primary, there’s still time for big changes. But here’s how the Republican contest looks right now, based on my reading of the odds currently posted at PredictIt, the prediction market site.

Ted Cruz (listed at 36 cents): Sell. I’ve underestimated Cruz; he’s done badly within Congress, but that hasn’t stopped him from picking up strong party support from social conservatives, among others. He’s leading in Iowa polls and is second nationally. He could win. But he’s still a factional candidate, and would probably lose one on one against most of his GOP rivals.

Marco Rubio (32 cents): Buy. Rubio is second to Jeb Bush in getting endorsements from top Republican elected officials (senators, members of the House and governors), as scored by FiveThirtyEight. He's second to Cruz in the number of endorsements from current and former state legislators. Overall, he has been the big leader in this area over the last few months. He’s third in Iowa and nationally in the polls. There’s a pundit backlash against Rubio, but he’s still the only candidate running a coalition-style campaign, and he's the one easiest to see almost every party faction being satisfied with. The most likely winner, but hardly a sure thing.

Donald Trump (25 cents): Big sell. Yes, many Republicans are receptive to what he’s selling. But he's not sufficiently different from Cruz, Rubio and the others on the issues to account for his polling success, which I still think is mostly driven by media domination. Sorry, Paul Krugman, most voters haven’t been paying attention yet. They don’t have a firm enough commitment to Trump to prevent them from selecting another candidate once their state primary approaches and they begin hearing about a choice among two or more candidates, instead of just hearing about Trump. And the party will fight Trump to the end. 

Jeb Bush (10 cents): Buy. He’s still on top of the FiveThirtyEight endorsement tracker. His polling numbers are terrible; most Republicans like most of the candidates, but many just don’t like Bush, or at least that’s what they tell pollsters. His “Bush faction” campaign hasn’t gained support beyond those who are simply inclined to support him because of his family. Yet he has plenty of assets, including a national media predisposed to take him seriously. If he surges, there’s a good chance Republican opposition to him will turn out to be soft. 

Chris Christie (8 cents): Hold. His polling momentum in New Hampshire could spread; it might not. Christie’s biggest limitation is that he is the factional candidate of the moderates. He would win if he defeats Rubio (and Bush and John Kasich) in New Hampshire and becomes the only remaining candidate who party actors feel can be a competitor in the general election. But they would also have to believe that the bridge scandal isn't a big deal and that Christie will play well in their states. A lot of ifs. 

Paul Ryan (2 cents); All other possible candidates not currently running (10 cents): Sell. Hey, it’s possible. But unlikely. It would require not only a contested convention (with no candidate holding a majority of the delegates), but a deadlocked one (with no remaining candidate close enough to get over the finish line).

John Kasich (1 cent). Buy. Kasich is like Christie, but without the New Hampshire momentum. A month ago, it was the other way around. It could change again. If it does, Kasich would probably have less resistance from the party than Christie would. At this price, it's a risk worth taking.

Mike Huckabee (1 cent): Weak buy. The social conservative equivalent of Kasich. It would take a serious collapse from Cruz for Huckabee to get back in it, and a lot of other things would have to go right as well. 

Rick Santorum (1 cent): Hold. Same as with Huckabee, except a little less likely all around.

Rand Paul, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, George Pataki (1 cent): Sell. Unlikely to surge; unlikely to win if they surge.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net