It's generally been assumed that the Republican presidential field in 2016 wouldn't just be competitive -- it'd be enormous. The Huffington Post's Pollster chart ranking the GOP presidential hopefuls by poll support shows literally 15 candidates.
The prospect of these 15 people sharing a ballot is daunting; the prospect of them sharing a debate stage is almost comical.
But at this very early stage, one of the under-appreciated questions is not who'll throw their hat in the ring, but rather, who'll take themselves out of the running early on. The fact remains that before the primary phase gets underway in earnest, possible contenders have to work their way through the pre-primary narrowing, and that phase is arguably underway now.
Ed Rogers, a Washington Post conservative, raised a fair point last week:
[I]t 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.
He published this several days before Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) announced he'll skip the 2016 race.
This actually happens with some regularity. In advance of the 2012 election, former Gov. Haley Barbour (R) had not only expressed an interest in the race, but he'd begun traveling to states with early contests and assembling a staff. He then took a long, cold look at his odds and passed on the cycle. The same year, Mitch Daniels, Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and others thought about jumping in, and received quite a bit of attention, but ultimately withdrew from consideration. Others, like Tim Pawlenty, launched a campaign, but quit long before a single voter had even cast a ballot.
Looking ahead, it's easy to imagine a Republican presidential field that includes (in alphabetical order) Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Mike Pence, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker. That's 17 people. It's also easy to imagine a handful of fringe figures -- John Bolton? Herman Cain? -- dipping their toes in the water, too.
But I'd bet good money that some of these folks will do exactly what Paul Ryan did: think about running, have some serious conversations with their families and aides, enjoy some of the media attention that comes with being a possible candidate, and then stand down.