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The 2016 GOP Field Suddenly Got Very Crowded -- and Unpredictable

Are Christie, Bush AND Romney all in?

American presidential politics, just like college football, can be an unpredictable game. And right now, the early 2016 Republican field is shaping up to be more unpredictable, crowded, and fascinating than we ever thought. Last fall, few would have guessed that Jeb Bush — after his full-throated support for Common Core and immigration reform, plus his last name — would be “actively” exploring a presidential run? Yet everything he’s done over the past two months suggests he’s off and running. Who would have thought that Mitt Romney, after denying and denying his interest in a third presidential bid, would be on the cusp of another White House run? But yesterday, the Washington Post reported that Romney “almost certainly will” make another try, as he told a senior Republican. And after Chris Christie’s rough 2014 (Bridge-gate, the still-ongoing investigation, the credit downgrades) who would have guessed he also could be ready to throw his hat into the ring? But Christie’s apparently lured a top Republican finance person, and has GOP sugar-daddy Ken Lagone organizing a dinner for him as he delivers his state of the state address today.

A greater chance of at least two of Jeb-Romney-Christie running than we ever thought possible

Now it’s still possible that ALL THREE of Bush, Romney, and Christie won’t run in 2016. After all, there is a finite number of GOP donors and establishment support for them to fight over. But after the last week of presidential activity, there’s a greater chance of two or all three running than we would have dreamed a month ago — all setting up what would be a highly competitive, fascinating and, yes, unpredictable field. And we haven’t even gotten to the other Republican cast of characters who are likely or possible to make White House bids: Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, etc. What’s more, multiple establishment candidates certainly create an opening for a Paul, Walker, or someone else. Bottom line: Your early (and still-emerging) 2016 Republican field looks to be more diverse and interesting than we could have ever imagined. And as last night’s college football championship proved, sometimes the winner is the team you least expected at the very beginning.

Why would so many Republicans be running? Answer: History is on their side

Here’s a question to chew on: Why does it seem like everyone (Jeb, Romney, Christie, etc.) wants in on the presidential sweepstakes? Well, history tends to suggest that a party fares pretty well after the opposing party has held on to the White House for eight years. The one modern exception, of course, was 1988, when George H.W. Bush succeeded Reagan. So it’s worth noting that Hillary Clinton’s probable candidacy isn’t intimidating Republicans — in fact, it appears to be the reverse. Then again, the more Republicans who run and spend millions upon millions in beating each other up is all POTENTIALLY good news for Clinton. Of course, the more crowded the GOP field gets could also entice a high-profile Democrat like Elizabeth Warren to get in. And Warren just got a big victory on Monday, per NBC’s Chris Jansing.

Mitt 3.0

In his first presidential bid (2007-2008), Mitt Romney cast himself as a social conservative. In his second run (2011-2012), he was the economic “fix-it” man. And if he makes a third White House try (2015-2016), Politico writes he’ll focus on foreign policy and tackling poverty — plus do a better job of introducing himself to the public. “If he decides to run, I think you’ll see a different campaign and I think you’ll see a campaign in which the American people get to really know Mitt Romney as a person,” GOP donor Robert O’Brien told Politico. (Of course, after two earlier White House bids and more than enough money, it should ring alarm bells that THIS TIME voters will get to know the real Romney.) Yet if 2016 is a foreign-policy election, Romney has a real opening here, because his credentials (as the GOP’s 2012 nominee) make him look more experienced on this front than the rest of the field. And don’t forget this about Romney: Before his presidential aspirations, he had really never failed at anything before. That could be driving him more than anything else.

Christie to deliver his “State of the State” address

As mentioned above, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers his “State of the State” address at 2:00 pm ET. And an aide tells First Read that Christie will return to his message of a Republican governor getting results in a Democratic state. “The speech provides the opportunity to reintroduce the governor’s five-year record of reform and accomplishment in contrast to the challenges New Jersey was facing when he first took office in 2010,” the aide states. “The Governor will be able to share a record of key reforms that were achieved while dealing with a Democratic legislature after years of higher taxes, reckless spending and decades of ignoring fundamental problems like the burgeoning pension and benefit crisis.”

Walker, Pence also give their “State of the State” addresses

By the way, Christie isn’t the only GOP governor — and possible presidential candidate — who is giving a “State of the State” address today. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence also are delivering their speeches. And here’s a list of other notable “State of the State” speeches, per NBC’s Andrew Rafferty:

  • Brian Sandoval: Jan. 15
  • Susana Martinez: Jan. 20
  • John Kasich: Late February
  • Bobby Jindal: April 13

Paul Ryan’s a no-go on 2016

Well, we know one Republican who WON’T be running for president in 2016: former vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan. NBC’s Alex Moe with yesterday’s scoop: “Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican Party's vice presidential nominee in 2012, told NBC News in an interview Monday that he will not seek the presidency in 2016. ‘I have decided that I am not going to run for president in 2016,’ Ryan said in a phone interview, noting that he is ‘at peace’ with the decision he made ‘weeks ago’ to forgo a bid for the White House. Here’s Ryan on the 2016 field: “‘It is no secret that I have always thought Mitt would make a great president,’ he said. ‘As for his plans for 2016, I don't know what he is ultimately going to do and the last thing I want to do is get ahead of his own decision making process.… I think we've got a number of very capable candidates who have every ability to become president.’”

The White House’s quick apology

At 11:00 am ET, President Obama and Vice President Biden meet at the White House with the congressional leaders from both parties. As for yesterday’s White House admission that it should have sent a higher-ranking official to Sunday’s unity rally in Paris, that was the quickest P.R. apology we can remember coming from Team Obama. They still often don’t get the so-called “optics” right, but if they’re learned any lesson, it’s not to fight when you’re in the “optics” hole. Instead, the fastest way to end the story is admit you were wrong.

California Senate field comes into focus

Finally, the 2016 field to replace retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is quickly taking shape. Gavin Newsom is out. Kamala Harris is in. The folks to keep an eye on: Tom Steyer and Antonio Villaraigosa.

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