Opinion

SCOT LEHIGH

Republican presidential candidates in a Darwinian race

globe wire services; composite

There’s a bear in the woods, as Ronald Reagan’s famous ad once warned. Actually, a bunch of them. And we know they’re dangerous. One just ate Rick Perry.

Another has knocked gimmicky Scott Walker off his stalled Harley, while a third has Bobby Jindal trapped in the bayou. A fourth is licking his chops in contemplation of the gluttonous feast he and his furry friends will make of Chris Christie — once they’ve had undernourished George Pataki and Jim Gilmore as appetizers, that is.

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I’m talking metaphorically, obviously, about the Darwinian forces of political fate. It was lack of money that did in Perry — and will soon put others in peril. Of course, cash woes usually also signal that problems of plausibility or heft or skill or likability or acceptability beset a campaign.

The rapid rise of Donald Trump, comedic king of the cable news cycle, spells an existentially arduous autumn for many in the Republican presidential field. It’s like the joke about the two hikers who face a charging grizzly. The first kneels down to tighten his sneaker laces.

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“You’ll never outrun that bear,” his companion says.

“I don’t have to outrun the bear,” the other replies. “I just have to outrun you.”

So let’s go out on a limb: Who will make it through to winter as a plausible competitor — and who will fade to irrelevance in this survival-of-the-fittest fall?

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Rand Paul, who is demonstrating the difficulty of building a base that fuses libertarians with more mainstream Republicans, should feel hot ursine exhalations on the nape of his neck. Ditto Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, who have seen Ben Carson and Trump spirit away the evangelicals they need to jump-start their moribund campaigns. Although Lindsey Graham is obviously having fun on the trail, even John McCain’s help hasn’t given him the traction he needs for a successful run.

Contrariwise, hard as he is to imagine as the eventual GOP nominee, Trump has staying power, at least until the race narrows to a couple of candidates. Carson, another surprise success riding an antiestablishment updraft, also looks to make the 2016 starting mark.

Count Governor John Kasich of Ohio as a long-time politician on the rise. The successful governor of a crucial swing state, Kasich has a steady fund-raising stream and the kind of experience Main Street Republicans value. And though less known and less well-financed than Jeb Bush, Kasich has something Bush doesn’t: a nondynastic success story in an antiestablishment year.

Still, don’t buy the notion that Bush is mortally wounded. He’s more like a blue-chip stock in a seasonal slump. His assets — a deep reservoir of dollars (money means longevity), a resonant name, a command of policy, a decent-guy demeanor, and a credible conservative record as governor of Florida — are undervalued in this summer of personality. But they should reemerge as the discussion becomes more serious and the party’s establishment looks for the best bets to stop Trump.

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, meanwhile, has shown an impressive ability to turn a bumptious Trump attack into a deft bit of gender jujitsu. Once an afterthought, she seems to be elbowing her way through the boys club to a spot at the starting line.

Which leaves Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, two harder-to-categorize candidates. My bet: Discerning voters will look askance on Cruz’s contrived and melodramatic thespianism, while the earnest, articulate Rubio will comport himself well enough to earn serious VP consideration from any prospective nominee save (constitutionally encumbered) fellow Floridian Bush.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.

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