Let's pretend, for a moment, that the Republican presidential nominee will be determined not by voters casting ballots in state primaries and caucuses, but by conservative media outlets and pundits. Who would win?
In a not-entirely serious and hugely subjective attempt to answer this question, I've selected a bunch of leading conservative voices, assigned them "delegate values," based on a highly unscientific measure of their relative influence, and then awarded those delegates to the candidates.
In some cases, the endorsement is obvious. Think: Glenn Beck hitting the campaign trail for Ted Cruz. In others, figuring out which candidate(s) should receive delegates requires some reading between the lines.
For now, I'm scoring a slim lead for Donald Trump (57 delegates) over Cruz (51), followed by Jeb Bush (18), Marco Rubio (10), John Kasich (5) and Ben Carson (3).
More publications and commentators (perhaps big names like Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Hugh Hewitt) will surely reveal their allegiances in the coming weeks and months. This is just a starting point. It's supposed to be fun.
Try not to get too worked up over it.
Candidate(s) receiving delegates: Cruz (13)
Why: Beck endorsed Cruz in January, comparing the Texas senator to the nation's first president: "We need a new George Washington. Today's Washington will not be found in the garish light of gold but rather in the bold service of a man who stands tirelessly for what he deeply believes. That government should be of the people, by the people and for the people. That is why I'm endorsing Senator Ted Cruz as the next president of the United States of America."
Candidate(s) receiving delegates: Cruz (2)
Why: The Media Research Center founder has backed Cruz since July, arguing that Republicans need to nominate a strong conservative rather than a moderate: "Make no mistake: If the Republican Party repeats what it has done the last two presidential elections, Republicans will lose. I guarantee it,” Bozell said in the video. “On the other hand, if we nominate a principled, passionate conservative America can count on to restore her greatness, there will be an outpouring of support."
Candidate(s) receiving delegates: Trump (14)
Why: As I've noted before, Breitbart is not only showering Trump with favorable coverage, but it's also lighting his top rivals on fire. And as the Post's Paul Farhi wrote in January, "Trump has returned the favor, doling out so many 'exclusives' to Breitbart's relentless Washington political editor, Matthew Boyle, that some have wondered whether Trump and Breitbart are in business together. (They're not, both sides say.)"
Candidate(s) receiving delegates: Rubio (7), Bush (2), Kasich (1)
Why: The New York Times columnist hasn't endorsed any candidate, but it's pretty clear that Brooks isn't a "yuge" Trump fan, nor is he a great admirer of Cruz. He's long been impressed by Florida's junior senator, however, and he recently predicted rather confidently that Rubio will win the nomination. Brooks seems to think Bush would be a sensible pick, too — though his idea of a compliment (Bush could be the "laxative" Republicans need) isn't exactly glowing. Meanwhile, Brooks called Kasich "easily the most underestimated Republican" early last year, but he hasn't had much to say about the Ohio governor lately.
Candidate(s) receiving delegates: Trump (4)
Why: Coulter has been on the Trump bandwagon since he entered the race, largely because of his hard-line on illegal immigration.
Candidate(s) receiving delegates: Trump (16)
Why: Founder Matt Drudge isn't explicitly backing any candidate, but his site's anti-establishment bent aligns closely with Trump's message, and its links frequently direct visitors to stories that make the GOP front-runner look good. Plus, Drudge's post-debate online polls always show landslide victories for the real estate mogul and are a staple of Trump's braggadocio.
All polls have me winning debate big- Drudge, TIME, etc. Dopey Charles Krauthammer still nasty. He has zero cred- totally dishonest!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 14, 2016
Candidate(s) receiving delegates: Trump (5)
Why: The Infowars founder, conspiracy theorist and talk radio host is a big Rand Paul booster, but with the Kentucky senator out of the race, Trump looks like his clear favorite. On Saturday, after Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died, Jones posted a video on Facebook in which he contemplated whether Scalia had been murdered by liberals and whether Trump could be next. Trump has also appeared on Jones's show.
Candidate(s) receiving delegates: Cruz (12)
Why: The talk radio host hasn't made an endorsement but has praised Cruz more than anyone else in the field, calling him "the most consistently conservative candidate running." He has staunchly defended the Canadian-born Cruz against suggestions that he is ineligible to be president, telling Trump to "cut the crap." Plus, his fiancée's son works in Cruz's Senate office.
Candidate(s) receiving delegates: Trump (10), Cruz (10)
Why: The king of conservative talk seems genuinely conflicted. Some days he sounds like a Trump enthusiast, and he clearly likes many of the reality TV star's brazen qualities. But Limbaugh also worries, at times, that Trump isn't a reliable conservative. After Saturday's debate in South Carolina, for instance, he accused Trump of crossing conservative "boundaries" by "defending Planned Parenthood in language used by the left." Cruz more closely fits the bill of the pure-bred conservative Limbaugh wants at the top of the GOP ticket.
Candidate(s) receiving delegates: Cruz (11)
Why: Malkin isn't an official member of Team Cruz, but it's not too hard to figure out her preference. She and Trump have waged a nasty Twitter battle (he's a "coward" and a "phony"; she's a "dummy" who was "born stupid") and yet Malkin has said she would vote for Trump before Rubio. She enthusiastically endorsed Cruz during his 2012 Senate run and said early in the presidential race that the Texan is the "most intriguing" GOP candidate.
Candidate(s) receiving delegates: Cruz (3), Rubio (3), Bush (3), Kasich (3), Carson (3)
Why: I can't figure out where the conservative magazine is leaning, and it seems like its staff can't decide, either. Top editor Rich Lowry told me in January that they are "all over the map on the other guys" — the "other guys" being everyone by Trump, whom the National Review absolutely, positively can't stand. The closest thing to an endorsement came in December, when senior editor Jonah Goldberg threw his support behind a satirical Twitter candidate known as @smod2016, a "Sweet Meteor O'Death" that will "probably destroy all Earthly life."
Candidate(s) receiving delegates: Bush (10)
Why: The former Reagan speechwriter is as fair-minded as they come, so you won't find her openly rooting for any candidate. When many of her media contemporaries dismissed Trump early in the race, she took him seriously (though she thinks he should behave a bit more seriously). Rubio, she wrote in January, "has turned stern and indignant, as if he’s decided the base is angry so he’ll enact anger too." Cruz's problem? "Almost no one who works with him likes him," Noonan wrote last month.
But she seems to have a soft spot for Bush, even as she critiques his floundering campaign. "I take it very much as part of my job to just tell you honestly what I think I'm seeing, and you're going to ruffle feathers when you do that," she said in a CBS interview in November, after a particularly tough take on Bush. "I always hope, I promise you, at the end of the day that I'm wrong. I hope they turn it around."
Candidate(s) receiving delegates: Trump (8), Bush (2), Kasich (1)
Why: The Republican congressman turned MSNBC host doesn't always go easy on Trump. He memorably cut to commercial in the middle of an interview in December when he felt Trump was simply speechifying and not answering questions. But Trump stayed on the line that day and continued the interview after the break, illustrating the respect the two have for one another. Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt said on his program last month that he believes Trump might even ask Scarborough to be his running mate — a notion that Scarborough didn't completely shoot down when Hewitt asked him about it. He later tried to close the door on Twitter.
I rule it out. Now on to more important things. What's REM's best album? 1/ Murmur 2/ Reckoning or 3/ Fables? https://t.co/q92WudtDye
— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) January 28, 2016
Still, the prevailing impression is that Scarborough's preferred candidate is Trump. It sure isn't Rubio. And Scarborough has been pretty hard on Cruz, too. At times, he also has defended Bush, his fellow Floridian, such as when Trump "went way too far talking about 9/11" in last Saturday's debate. And he seemed impressed by Kasich, even before the Ohio governor's runner-up finish in New Hampshire.