The conventional wisdom is that the 2016 GOP field for president is going to be huge, with more than eighteen people already mentioned as potential candidates.  While it is certainly plausible that we will see a large number of candidates, I think the field for the Republicans might actually be winnowing as we start 2015.  Since former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s announcement in mid-December, it seems like the landscape has shifted somewhat to favor a few well-positioned candidates.  These candidates benefit from each having a substantial component of the GOP coalition that is already biased in their favor – or, that at least represents friendly territory for one candidate or another.  The GOP field isn’t actually the clown car filled with a dozen or more wannabes that the Democrats would like to see.

Instead of 16-18 candidates, I now think it is likely we will have around five real contenders.  That said, it is usually not a bad career move to run for president, so many will be tempted to do so.  (Well, it’s usually not a bad career move as long as you don’t flame out with a scandal or gaffe or run up a huge debt.)  Running for president can enhance your stature and also make it more likely you could be added to the ticket as the Vice-Presidential nominee or even subsequently as a member of the cabinet.  It is also certainly an advantage if you run in the next election.

Anyway, former Governor Jeb Bush’s preemptive announcement pinches many potential candidates.  His establishment base, having Florida as his anchor state and his record as governor certainly crowds (to varying degrees) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Texas Governor Rick Perry and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.  Meanwhile, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who I think is underestimated in Washington, has a strong foothold among cultural conservatives and Evangelicals, which could make it very tough for former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum to run a viable race.  I also think he saps some of Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s strength.  Huckabee would be the favorite in many Bible Belt primaries if they were held today.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is almost certainly going to run – and he should. Scott Walker is in a unique spot.  He is a governor with an interesting personal history and geographically, he is the only Midwesterner who really seems feasible.  Plus, he is the most battle-tested Republican candidate in the field.  Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) also has a valid starting point. The Tea Party needs somebody rational and good on TV, and the growing Libertarian component of the Republican party is looking for its own candidate. Meanwhile, Senator Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal will each have a hard time finding their own niche from which to work.

Dr. Ben Carson, an African-American, and Carly Fiorina, a woman, would both add to the Republican line-up in 2016.  Neither one will end up as the Republican nominee, but it is good for the party to showcase some diversity. Even if their presence is purely cosmetic, for the GOP, it is better than nothing. I think it is particularly important for the Republicans to have a credible woman on the presidential stage.  Whether or not Fiorina can get there remains to be seen.

Starting right now, potential candidates are facing the reality that they need to raise an enormous sum of money in less than twelve months.  It looks like the first real balloting will be in Iowa the last week of January 2016.  Well, to make it from the Iowa caucuses in January to the mid-March 2016 primaries, candidates will need anywhere from $40-$100 million to be serious.  It is a formidable task, and that in itself will be discouraging for many.  With all the talk about billionaires funding campaigns, I’m sure there are a few potential candidates currently scouting around for a 2016 sugar daddy.  But having a single billionaire sponsor providing your main source of fuel could be a handicap with voters in and of itself.

Plus, there are going to be fewer straw polls and multi-candidate debates and appearances, so the less well-known and less well-funded candidates will not have as many built-in opportunities to appear on equal footing alongside the more credible candidates.  So again, to state the obvious, the contenders who can raise serious money quickly will have a competitive advantage.

Anyway, it is still early, and a lot will happen in the next few weeks, but I think the shrinking of the 2016 Republican field has already begun.