Forget about the dozen or so potential Republican presidential candidates. It really doesn't matter how much you or I may like one or the other of them and think he would be the greatest President since Ronald Reagan. After the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries, the rest of us will be left to choose between the 3 (or possibly 4) candidates who are left standing. Chances are your favorite candidate at this point won't make the cut, because the results are already baked in the cake.
One of those candidates left standing will be Rand Paul. Whatever may be said about his father (please, don't get me started), Ron Paul placed a strong third in Iowa and took second place in New Hampshire in 2012. It is inconceivable that the son will not at least equal and is likely to exceed his father's results. It is also entirely possible that after Iowa winnows the field that he will win the New Hampshire primary.
The second candidate will be whomever the social conservative voters of Iowa consolidate behind. Think Rick Santorum in 2012 and Mike Huckabee in 2008. Both were underfunded and not given any consideration until the Iowa caucuses. If Huckabee makes a second run, he will likely be the pick of Iowa's social conservatives. If Huckabee again takes a pass, Santorum is sure to make a run and likely to win their support. Both are "Big Government" conservatives. It is doubtful that a candidate known primarily as a social conservative will actually win the nomination and extremely unlikely that one can win the presidency.
The third candidate to make the cut will be the hand-picked choice of the Republican establishment. Right now, that is Jeb Bush. If he makes a run, he will have the full force and financial backing of the establishment. He is the one candidate who can survive a poor finish in Iowa (lower than third place), because his money won't dry up and he has the Florida primary as a firewall. If he opts out, the establishment may gravitate back to Chris Christie, if he can overcome their lingering doubts. Or, John Kasich is waiting in the wings and willing to don the establishment mantle.
Yes, a fourth candidate may survive Iowa and New Hampshire, but it will not be easy. He will have to finish ahead of either the establishment candidate in Iowa or the social conservative candidate in New Hampshire. Don't expect Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Paul Ryan, Mike Pence or Bobby Jindal to make it. After Iowa and New Hampshire, they will be out of money and sitting on the sidelines. The two candidates that have the potential for making it past Iowa and New Hampshire are Marco Rubio and Chris Christie. Each has the personality and a broader appeal that will make it possible to break into the top tier in Iowa and New Hampshire. But only one will. Or neither.
Which brings me back to Rand Paul. Given a choice between Paul, the establishment's candidate, the social conservative candidate and Christie or Rubio, it would seem that Rand Paul becomes the clear choice for limited government conservatives. For that reason, it would be better to get behind his candidacy sooner rather than later. Anybody but Mitt, didn't really work out very well. Anybody but Jeb won't either.