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The party has a group of governors with presidential ambitions: Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, possibly John Kasich of Ohio and Rick Snyder of Michigan, and perhaps others. Walker, Kasich and Snyder have to get through re-election campaigns this year, and they remain largely unknown nationally. Many have potential, but that potential is unrealized for now.
Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, intrigues many Republicans and worries some Democrats. Whether he will run is an open question, and whether he can excite his party is another. James Carville, the Democratic strategist, told CNN the other day that Bush could be a beneficiary of Christie’s fall.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the party’s 2012 vice-presidential nominee, also has people guessing: Does he want to be president or stay in the House? Ryan no doubt elevated himself by producing a bipartisan budget agreement at the end of last year, but that is hardly a definitive development this far away from the real competition.
If the prospective field of candidates leaves so many unanswered questions, so, too, does the Republican Party’s unsettled state. No one can be certain at this point where the center of gravity will be when the candidates begin to announce a year from now.
The tea party flexed its muscles during the government shutdown. The establishment has vowed to fight back. Will 2016 be the year that tea party conservatives finally get a nominee of their liking? If so, will that candidate be acceptable to a general-election audience? A series of Senate primaries pitting tea party candidates against incumbent Republicans will help to clarify the shape and potential outcome of the GOP’s nomination campaign by this time next year, although perhaps not definitively.
What the past 12 months - and now the past few days - have done, mostly, is to make things murkier than ever.
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