Mackinac Island

There was a sense of winnowing in the air this weekend, as state Republicans greeted a half-dozen presidential candidates during their biennial convention.

The five who came to Mackinac, for the most part, all once were considered to have a decent shot at winning the GOP nomination. Now, at least half of them have that last gasp feel about them.

Take Scott Walker. The Wisconsin governor was a conservative darling after facing down the public sector unions in his state, and then surviving their repeated attempts to unseat him. But he failed to make an impact during the first two GOP debates, coming across as an afterthought who can’t carve out a niche. Scott Walker canceled his appearance.

His effort to revive his campaign by declaring war on all unions in America seemed the desperate flailing of a candidate struggling to stay relevant.

Likewise, neither of the two U.S. senators who spoke to Michigan Republicans this weekend — Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky — have found the ingredients for a surge. Both have pockets of passionate backers, but show no signs of building a broader base. Their fellow senator, Marco Rubio of Florida, is making them look like the junior varsity.

Of the other three Mackinac presidential visitors, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush remains stuck in neutral. He’s got all the money — particularly from Michigan’s big donor list. But money can’t buy a personality, or erase history. He’s still a Bush. He needs more than an exclamation point to overcome that; he needs to be stellar, and he hasn’t been so far.

Carly Fiorina, the former tech exec, was the rock star on the island. Her forcefulness in the debate and her face down of Donald Trump won her high marks and she floated across the Straits on a wave of momentum. As Ben Carson fades for lack of a coherent vision, expect Fiorina to be the next candidate to make a serious run at Trump.

Then there’s John Kasich. The Ohio governor is my preferred candidate. I believe he has the best chance of winning a general election because he is not a frothing hard liner on social issues and boasts a solid record of reviving Ohio, the key swing state in a presidential contest. But he is an insider in a year in which voters clearly want to punish the establishment. If he can raise the money to sustain a campaign until voters regain their senses, he could be the tortoise who wins the race.

As for those who didn’t come to Mackinac, all of the candidates forced to the undercard in last week’s debate should face the reality that they aren’t going to be president. The same goes for Mike Huckabee, who can’t steal his fringe base back from Trump; Chris Christie, who can’t recover from his early media assassination; and the other hopefuls who already are also rans. Trump is still on top, but he may have reached his zenith. His performance at last week’s debate was sub-par. His schtick may be growing old. Hope so.

By the next debate Oct. 13 in Nevada, the field should be smaller. It needs to be, if Republicans are going to raise up a candidate who can retake the White House in 2016.

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