Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard offers his assessment of the candidates likely to compete for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Hayes assesses each candidate, in reverse order of the likelihood of success.

His top three choices (from best odds to worst) are Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, and Jeb Bush.

Jeb Bush. Jeb Bush has made clear that he will run an unorthodox campaign, deploying social media in innovative ways. He is making public volumes of email from his tenure as Florida governor. He is telling people that his campaign will reimagine the traditional roles of advisers and staff—even of the candidate himself. And he has said that he wants to win in the primaries by running as a general election candidate.

Bush’s early entry and aggressive pitch to contributors (he’s asking for big bucks and often a pledge of donor exclusivity) were intended to scare off or intimidate would-be challengers. There’s no doubt it played a major role in Mitt Romney’s decision not to run, despite his eagerness to mount a third bid. And Bush certainly impressed the shapers of conventional wisdom in the political media—who immediately bestowed upon him the designation “frontrunner.” Bush may end up the nominee, but he’s far from the shoo-in that money Republicans (and the reporters who listen to them) seem to believe. …

Scott Walker. If Scott Walker’s early success has surprised some Washington-based political reporters, it didn’t surprise many in the conservative grassroots or those familiar with his political career in Wisconsin. The question was never whether Walker would be a first-tier candidate, it was how quickly he would become one and whether he could remain there once he did. With Walker at or near the top of polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire, we have an answer to the first question, and the answer to the second may well determine whether Walker is the nominee.

Walker’s case is a simple one: I fight on behalf of conservative principles and I win. This is true electorally and substantively. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the 47-year-old governor has run in more elections than any other candidate in the field, and he’s won more than any other candidate in the field. …

Marco Rubio. The conventional wisdom about a Rubio for president campaign has swung wildly over the past two months. In the weeks after the 2014 midterms, commentators mused about a Rubio bid as if it were a sure thing. But when Jeb Bush made clear that he was likely to run, the peddlers of conventional wisdom were sure Rubio wouldn’t challenge his mentor. Last week, Rubio hired well-regarded New Hampshire political strategist Jim Merrill, and the commentariat quickly concluded that he was in. Interviewed by Hugh Hewitt, Rubio said: “I wouldn’t be running against Jeb Bush. If I ran, I would run because I believe I’m the right person for the right time in our country’s history.” The reality is that very few people know if Rubio will run, but unless something changes his thinking, he is far more likely to run than not. His wife is supportive, his team is prepared, and a decision is imminent.

As for Walker, the case for Rubio is simple: He is the most talented communicator in politics today. He is a visceral conservative who makes the case for limited government and American greatness better than anyone in the Republican field—better than anyone, anywhere. And he has used his short time in Congress to make himself a leading Republican voice on national security and foreign policy, serving on both the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees.