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The Republican presidential field just gets bigger and bigger. Three early-look lists last week — compiled by Karl Rove, by Politico’s Mike Allen and by conservative talk-show host Steve Deace — identified 26 candidates in total. Yikes!

I’ve been commenting on candidates as it becomes clear they are running for 2016 (regardless of whether he will still be running in 2016). But I haven’t talked about all 26. A quick categorization is in order.

Early in 2015, which will be about a year away from the Iowa caucuses, candidates must start establishing campaign organizations, nationally and in the early states. Stronger candidates don’t have to declare formally too soon. But it’s already late for any candidate to begin to campaign.

I’ve already discussed 12 of the 26 Republicans who appear viable, given their credentials and their positions on issues more or less within their party’s mainstream: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Rick Perry, John Kasich, Mike Pence, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, Rob Portman, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. (Some candidates may have views on issues where they’ll find resistance – Bush and Rubio, for example, on immigration, or Kasich on Medicaid expansion. But they have plenty of time to adjust, or no organized group within the party had proved to have a veto on the contenders who disagree with them.)

Each candidate appears to have done what he has to do up to this point. Presumably several will drop out in the next few months. (Will Ryan concentrate on the House? Does Bush want the nomination if it isn’t served up on a silver platter? Is Huck just trying to boost his speaking fees? Or, if he stays in, will Santorum give up his long-shot attempt?)  There is a very good chance, however, that the nominee comes from that list.

No, I didn’t forget Senators Rand Paul or Ted Cruz. They are running serious campaigns, but I don’t think they are viable nominees. Paul isn’t within the party mainstream on several issues, most importantly national security. As for Cruz, it isn’t just that he has annoyed far too many party actors. The failure of the government shutdown he spearheaded in 2013 surely convinced others that he can’t be trusted to look out for the Republican Party.

Rove includes Michigan governor Rick Snyder on his list, while Mike Allen mentions Senators John Thune and Lindsey Graham. But they don’t have the stature in the party to afford a late start, so we need more signs of serious activity before considering them as candidates. I have a low bar for the “running for 2016” classification, yet it has to be a bit more than the old saw of every senator (or governor) seeing a president in the mirror.

That leaves nine other names. Several don’t appear to be running. Why is former New York governor George Pataki still on these lists?  Same with another Rove mention, former Maryland governor Bob Ehrlich. Donald Trump won’t be running either (I think Deace is including him as a joke).

That leaves six who may be running, but who aren’t plausible nominees. Dr. Ben Carson is getting the most attention. And, oddly enough, Carly Fiorina has managed to pass muster with the Great Mentioner despite having nothing resembling conventional job credentials or any reason to expect any party group to rally to her. Former United Nations ambassador John Bolton, former Representative Allen West, Herman Cain and Representative Peter King — none has any chance.

Even for viable choices such as Governors Kasich of Ohio and Pence of Indiana, it’s getting to be time to step it up. There’s no one in this field who has the clout to straddle the “maybe” line until June. And there’s little chance any new real candidate can emerge (although virtually any conservative can claim 15 minutes of fame on Fox News and get a mention).

After all, with a full field of serious candidates already in place, the winnowing is probably just around the corner.

Image: DonkeyHotey via Flickr

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