By Brent Budowsky - 01/26/16 06:52 PM EST
Almost all Democrats are praying that Republicans nominate for president Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSenior House Republicans fighting for their lives GOP vulnerables dial back Hillary attacks Government workers shun Trump, give big money to Clinton MORE or Ted CruzTed CruzThe Trail 2016: An important lesson in geography Webb: The race to 270 Potential Cruz challenger: 'Don't close off your options' MORE. From Democratic establishment insiders who support Hillary Clinton to populist insurgents who support Bernie Sanders, there is a virtually unanimous view that Trump or Cruz would lead the GOP to a defeat so devastating Democrats would probably regain control of the Senate and have a fighting chance to take back the House.
For the same reasons that Democrats are praying for a Trump or Cruz nomination, the widely held bias of the political and media establishments that the GOP race is becoming a two-man race between Trump and Cruz is almost certainly wrong.
If Trump is now GOP Plan A and Cruz is GOP Plan B, the first month of primary and caucus voting will produce a Plan C candidate who will emerge as a first-tier candidate and be bannered throughout the media as having achieved a surprise surge.
The possibilities to become this Plan C champion are, in order of probability, Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Chris Christie. If they all fall short in early-state voting, we could see an intense draft movement calling on Mitt Romney to run on a ticket with Rubio or another original Plan C contender.
I omit Jeb Bush, the only true candidate of the GOP political and fundraising establishment, from the GOP nomination equation. Obviously his candidacy has not worked out. If Bush drops out and moves his support and donors to another Plan C contestant he could become a kingmaker — but not the king — in 2016.
The battle for Plan C primacy will occur in three key stages. The first includes voting in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, which ends Feb. 23. The second stage is the mega-voting that takes place in multiple states on March 1. The third stage begins in the wake of Super Tuesday and lasts until the selection of the nominee.
The first big question is whether Rubio, Kasich or Christie can emerge as the uncontested Plan C champion by Feb. 23. If one of them does, that candidate will vault to the top tier with a surge of adulatory media coverage, a massive wave of campaign donations and major endorsements from key Republicans in multiple states. He would storm into the March 1 voting with turbocharged momentum and polls probably showing him tied with or leading Democratic candidates in general election match-up polls, while polls would probably show Trump and Cruz sinking the GOP to a potentially devastating loss.
By contrast, if Plan C candidates divide the non-Trump/Cruz vote, cancel one another other out and are left far behind the top two contestants, they will run out of time and money. There will be intense pressure to draft a white knight candidate, probably Romney, to lead a ticket including an original Plan C contender as VP, probably Rubio, to avoid a Trump- or Cruz-led landslide defeat in November.
Given the choice between a ticket led by Trump or Cruz that would probably be a political suicide mission for the GOP or a Plan C ticket creating a viable chance of victory for the Republican Party, like most Democrats I am fervently praying for the former and scared stiff about the possibility of the latter!
Budowsky was an aide to former Sens. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Contributors blog and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.