Krauthammer: The GOP racing form
Donald Trump: Clear front-runner. Are you waiting for him to bring himself down? He won’t. He’s impervious to the gaffe. In fact, he has a genius for turning a gaffe into a talking point, indeed, a rallying cry.
Since the debate, his numbers have plateaued, and in some places declined. In New Hampshire, for example, he’s gone from the mid-20s to the high teens. And he had a rough debate, as reflected in the Suffolk University poll in Iowa taken right afterward, in which, by 55-23, respondents felt less comfortable with him as president.
Nonetheless, his core support, somewhere around 20 percent (plus or minus a couple), remains as solid as that once commanded by Ron Paul and Ross Perot. Which means Trump will likely continue to lead until the field whittles down to a handful, at which point 20 percent is no longer a plurality.
Teflon Don. Solid constituency, fixed ceiling. Chances of winning his party’s nomination? About the same as Sanders winning his.
Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio: Still the top tier. Walker just held his own in the debate. Bush slipped slightly, appearing somewhat passive and, amazingly, still lacking a good answer to the “brother’s war” question. But he continues steady with a serious follow-up foreign policy speech and stick-to-his-guns positions on Common Core and immigration — not easy given the current mood of the party.
Rubio had the best debate performance of the prime-time 10 — fluid, passionate, in command. And he was already No. 1 in the “who could you support” question (at 62 percent), crucial in a 17-member field.
Odds for each? Rubio 3-1. Bush and Walker 4-1.
Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina: The new second tier. And rising. Cruz had a strong debate, establishing himself as the most convincing carrier of the populist, anti-Washington meme.
Kasich was engaging and compelling as the bleeding-heart conservative and successful tough-guy governor. Not an easy trick.
Fiorina displayed raw talent that surprised everyone who didn’t know her — and 6 million watched. Articulate, knowledgeable and relentlessly combative, she took on Clinton, Trump and President Barack Obama. Being in the undercard was a stroke of luck. She took the stage and made it her own.
Odds for the second-tier? 9-1 but with high ceilings for each.
Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for The Washington Post.