The Iowa caucuses are 10 days from Friday. And Donald Trump, the larger-than-life real estate reality star, is — still — the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Not only has Trump not disappeared or imploded — as everyone everywhere predicted he would — he appears to be getting stronger in both early-state and national polling as actual votes draw closer.
At this point, Trump's path to putting the nomination away quickly is far easier than the one Hillary Clinton must travel to capture the Democratic nomination. That doesn't mean Trump is a sure thing just yet, but he has, without question, the best chance of any Republican running to claim the party's top prize.
Below, my latest rankings of the six men who have a realistic-to-semi-realistic chance of winning the GOP nomination. If your preferred candidate's name isn't on the list, it's because they, well, aren't going to win.
To the line!
6. Chris Christie: The momentum the New Jersey governor appeared to have a month ago in New Hampshire seems to have dissipated — if not disappeared entirely. In five out of the last six polls conducted in the state, Christie hasn't broken double digits. If he can't find a way to restart his campaign in the state, Christie has no chance at surviving beyond Feb. 9 when New Hampshire votes. I keep him on the list because Christie's persona and the attention he has paid to the state could lead to another mini-surge in the days leading up to the first-in-the-nation primary. (Previous ranking: 4)
5. John Kasich: Polling is all over the place in New Hampshire, but if you look at the broad swath of data out there, it seems likely that the Ohio governor is running slightly ahead of the various Trump alternatives in the state. Barring some sort of massive Iowa collapse, Trump seems well-positioned to cruise in the Granite State, so the real battle will be for second. If Kasich can get there, it will allow him to stay in the race through Nevada and South Carolina — and likely all the way through the March 1 "SEC primary." My problem with Kasich is I just don't see a lot of obvious opportunities beyond New Hampshire for him to pull off a "shock the world" type win that he would need to become a true contender. (Previous ranking: 6)
4. Jeb Bush: There's a big drop-off between the top three spots and the next three spots on this list. Bush is the best of the rest because he remains the candidate best-positioned of the second-tier choices to emerge in the lengthy primary fight. Bush's Right to Rise super PAC is already laying down money for TV ad buys in states that vote in March — something the people ranked below him on this list simply can't do. That said, his polling in Iowa and New Hampshire looks anemic; he's in fifth place in both states, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average. Jeb is a more respectable fourth — and in double digits! — in South Carolina, but if he can't over-perform expectations in one of the first two states, the pressure for him to end his campaign to help consolidate behind an establishment pick (likely Rubio) will be immense. (Previous ranking: 5)
3. Marco Rubio: The Florida senator has been the "potential" candidate for the entirety of this race. He's the best debater in the field. He's young (44 years old). He's Hispanic. He looks the part. And yet, there's no early state where Rubio appears to be in position to win or even place. He's third in Iowa behind Cruz and Trump. He's third behind Trump and Kasich in New Hampshire. He's a distant third behind Trump and Cruz in South Carolina. Rubio's path to the nomination has to be third in Iowa, second in New Hampshire and then a win or a very close second in South Carolina — strategy dubbed "3-2-1." After all, to be the nominee, you actually have to win states. (See Giuliani, Rudy.) (Previous ranking: 2)
2. Ted Cruz: Cruz has built his reputation on his unwillingness to play nice with the old bulls of the Republican Party. That trait catapulted him to where he is in this race, but of late it's boomeranged back against him. First, John McCain exacted his revenge on Cruz by adding fuel to the fire over whether the Canadian-born Cruz is eligible to be president. Then, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad urged Hawkeye State voters to back anyone but Cruz in the caucuses. Then Bob Dole, who really, really doesn't like Cruz, told the New York Times that nominating the Texas senator would have catastrophic consequences for the party. None of these hits are death blows for Cruz, but they each serve as a distraction at a time when he can ill afford to take his eye off the ball. (Previous ranking: 1)
1. Donald Trump: Trump has had a very good last few weeks. He continues to hone his pitch on the stump and has clearly thrown Cruz off with the eligibility attack. Say what you will about her decidedly unusual speech endorsing Trump, but Sarah Palin remains a potent force (and surrogate) among social conservative and tea party types. Trump has pulled back into a tie with Cruz in Iowa, has extended his lead over the rest of the field in New Hampshire and leads in virtually every state that follows those two. If he wins Iowa and New Hampshire, look out: He'll almost certainly be the Republican standard-bearer. (Previous ranking: 3)