We're now entering a very special silly season in American politics.
The race for the Republican nomination is, of course, really down to two men: Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. But it's increasingly likely that neither candidate will have the 1,237 delegates necessary to win the nomination before the convention in July. This means, at least in theory, that almost anyone could be the GOP's presidential nominee, a thought irresistible to media folk.
Will the nominee be either Cruz or Trump? Probably. And will a lot of the upcoming "maybe X will somehow win the nomination" speculation we'll see in the coming months be stupid? Absolutely. The GOP might not be the world's most competent organization, but even they have to realize that telling millions of people who already cast votes in the primaries that those votes didn't matter is, at best, a risky proposition.
However, to paraphrase the last Republican president, we all need to put food on our families, including us providers of internet #content. So let's get to talking about Republican options not named Cruz or Trump.
Here are six, ranked from most- to least-plausible.
1. OHIO GOV. JOHN KASICH, aka "THE ONE WHO COULD WIN" --
PROS: Kasich makes sense as a sort of compromise Republican candidate, the guy who presses all the right buttons of all the right factions. He seems nice. He hugs people. Polling indicates he could decimate Hillary Clinton in a general election and carry Ohio, that must-win state for any Republican hopeful. And, after decades in the public eye, there's a pretty decent chance we'd already know if there were some past scandal that would doom him come November.
CONS: Kasich's "nice guy" act is, by most accounts, an act. In fact, among those who know or have worked with him, he's famously abrasive, and has annoyed many of his Republican colleagues over the years. He'll come in to the convention with far-and-away the fewest number of delegates, which means Republican primary voters have taken a look at him, said "meh", and pulled the lever for someone else. Cruz and Trump's respective loyalists at the convention will both see him as a the guy who helped sink their preferred candidates' chances and might not vote for a spoiler. Plus, he's seen as squishy by GOP stalwarts, having rammed through a Medicaid expansion in Ohio over the objections of his Republican legislature. When they got testy, he famously lectured them about Jesus, which didn't go over well.
2. SPEAKER PAUL RYAN, aka "FRESH FACE" --
PROS: A handsome, experienced, sophisticated politician who just a few years ago was the prototype of a broadly acceptable Republican leader. He's considered one of the smartest minds in the GOP, a policy wonk who can make the nuances of policy understandable. He has never run for president yet has been thoroughly vetted and at times appears to be running something of a shadow campaign for the job. And his office released this video last week, which certainly has the air of a campaign ad.
He is not known for hugging people, but could probably hug you in a non-creepy way. He's also somewhat well-known to the electorate, which means, unlike many of the other possible candidates on this list, the GOP wouldn't be starting from scratch in terms of introducing him to the voters.
CONS: The experience comes with a cost in the form of a long paper trail. On issues like free trade, immigration, and entitlement reform -- all of which Ryan promotes -- the entire primary can be seen as a mass rejection of Ryanism. He's also leadership in a party that hates its leaders and the Speaker of the House in a nation that hates its Congress. His signature issue, Medicare reform, is a proposal that virtually no constituency in America supports. And while we're at it, what has Ryan's big accomplishment been as speaker? I'm asking this because I really have no idea. All of this puts Ryan in a unique double-bind: He's considered a sellout by the activist class (Heritage Action gives him a 63 percent score, while Mark Levin's Conservative Review gives him an F) while many of the policies he's closely associated with are broadly seen as radical. A tough set of hurdles to overcome, to say the least.
3. FORMER SEN. TOM COBURN, aka "THE ACTUAL NICE GUY" --
PROS: The famously kind and upright Oklahoman was both one of the most conservative members of the Senate and one of its most well-liked. He even got along with President Obama, a feat plenty of his Democratic colleagues have had trouble with. ("I just love the man," Coburn told 60 Minutes in 2014.) His conservative bona fides are beyond reproach, and he's indicated that he'd be willing to run in order to stop Trump from taking over the party.
CONS: There's the obvious question of his health - Coburn, 68, has had a number of bouts with cancer over the years, and he left the Senate in 2015 to recuperate. Also, despite his hero status on the right, he's rather unknown to the wider electorate. That would give Democrats the chance to define him as a conservative radical, which probably wouldn't be too difficult given some of his positions over the years, particularly his hard-line stances on abortion and gay marriage.
4. GOV. SCOTT WALKER, aka "THE OTHER ONE WITH BAD HAIR" --
PROS: A two-term conservative governor of a purple state who just got a bunch of good press after Wisconsin voted for Cruz, whom he had endorsed, Walker is still a force to reckoned with in the GOP.
CONS: Where to begin. Remember when we collectively, as a nation, decided Walker wasn't ready for prime time, and then he ended his bid months before voting even started? Or that, despite the fact that he is obviously balding, he insists that patch of skin on his head is just the result of a scar? He ran for president already once this cycle and quickly proved he was inept at it. What reason is there to believe he's suddenly improved as a candidate since he dropped out in September?
5. GEN. JOHN MATTIS, aka "THE WARRIOR MONK" --
PROS: The former Centcom commander is something of a legend among Marines, and the case for his candidacy was recently made by former Jeb Bush aide John Noonan in The Daily Beast. "He neuters both party frontrunners' perceived strengths," Noonan writes. "Trump's faux-tough guy act would crumble when met with an actual warrior, and Hillary Clinton's foreign policy chops would seem like an 100-level International Relations course next to Mattis's experience and expertise."
CONS: We have no idea what the "vehemently apolitical" Mattis believes about much of anything. There's little indication he wants to be president. The last general the nation elected president, Dwight Eisenhower, was a brilliant politician in his own right, which we're not sure we can say of the straight-talking Mattis. And while Mattis is almost certainly a great man and deserving of tremendous respect, America has a tendency to only elect generals who fought in wars that ended in clear and final victories, which the Iraq War did not.
6. HOLOGRAM RONALD REAGAN, aka "GIPPER BOT" --
PROS: We can build it; we have the technology. There's nothing in the constitution that says explicitly that a hologram can't be president. And after decades of Republicans insisting they're the next Reagan, why not just go back to the original, albeit digitally reanimated, article?
CONS: Whether a hologram can be said to be "natural born" is debatable. Can it be a citizen? And would a resurrected Reagan, as so many pundits have opined over the last decade and change, be too far-left to survive in today's GOP?