The coming GOP demolition-derby circular firing squad
© Greg Nash

State of the 2016 Race
A column for The Hill analyzing the current state of the 2016 presidential race.

The Coming GOP demolition-derby circular firing squad:

1. With the announcement two weeks ago that four super-PACS — headed by the mysterious Robert Mercer from Long Island, N.Y. — had donated a stunning $31 million to Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzRepublicans seek to temper fallout from latest Russia bombshells Cruz says Americans outside Beltway unconcerned with Mueller investigation Cruz condemns King's white supremacy remark: 'It was stupid' and 'he needs to stop' MORE's (R-Texas) presidential campaign, a new era of GOP primary battles was launched.

2. In the past, the GOP establishment wing always handsomely funded their candidate.


3. It was always the conservatives who were underfunded.

4. And thus the primary outcome was preordained: After the initial dustup-up in Iowa and perhaps South Carolina, the establishment money wore the conservative(s) down and ultimately prevailed in a war of attrition.

5. That is not going to happen in the 2016 election cycle.

6. No, we are about to witness something we have never before seen: A full-on, well-funded-on-both-sides, nuclear war inside the GOP pitting the establishment (mostly former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush) versus the Tea Party (Cruz, Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonTrump taps Commerce watchdog to be new Interior inspector general DOJ probing whether Zinke lied to Interior investigators: report Ex-Trump family aide pushed for White House liaison's firing: report MORE and others) versus the neo-cons (Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio slams NY Times for 'absurd criticism' of Bolton over Iran Rubio knocks Democrats over meaning of 'compromise': It 'means when 3 or 4 Reps vote with the Dems' Will 2019 be the year we finally stand up to China? MORE) versus the libertarians (Kentucky Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul to have hernia surgery in Canada Ron Paul: Remove incentives for illegal immigrants instead of building border wall Congress must take the next steps on federal criminal justice reforms MORE) versus the hybrid (Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has both establishment and Tea Party support).

7. And all of them are going to have millions and millions of super-PAC dollars to spend.

8. Do you know what that means?

9. It means that campaign consultants will have plenty of money to do what they do best: going negative!

10. And that means by late this summer — when the televised GOP debates begin — the negative ads are also going to commence. The targets are predictable.

11. Walker is today the unquestioned leader in the race. He is ahead in both Iowa and New Hampshire. He draws support from both the establishment and the Tea Party. So he is going to be in the cross hairs of both the Bush team and the Tea Party group of Cruz, Carson, former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) and anyone else who lays claim to that vote.

12. Expect both sides to go after Walker — big time — and try to reduce his support.

13. By the way, watching that carefully will be Ohio Gov. Jon Kasich, who is poised to join the race but knows that Walker has to deteriorate in order for there to be room for another Midwestern GOP governor in this crowded field.

14. Walker is being backed by the Koch brothers and their network of supporters and donors — a very, very considerable asset for the Wisconsin governor.

15. Rubio, who did very well in his announcement speech and subsequent TV appearances, has yet to score with GOP primary voters in polls in Iowa or New Hampshire — or nationally, for that matter. Could it be that a very young-looking Latino pol who talks about his immigrant heritage and was in favor of a pathway to citizenship (i.e., "amnesty" as the GOP base refers to it) before doing a 180 degree switcheroo is the wrong fit for the GOP primary voter (older, overwhelmingly white, against amnesty and not particularly sympathetic to the classic immigrant success story)? Time will indeed tell.

16. So each faction — armed to the teeth with millions of dollars — will go on the attack in hopes of reducing their opponents and thus capturing those precious voters in a multi-candidate field.

17. Bush and Cruz go after Walker; Paul goes after Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDemocrat previews Mueller questions for Trump’s AG nominee Senators restart shutdown talks — and quickly hit roadblocks Trump’s polls sag amid wall fight MORE (S.C.); everybody goes after Bush; Santorum, Carson and Cruz go after each other; Rubio goes after Bush.

18. The problem is the dirty little secret of negative campaigning: Yes, those negative ads do work. But they also redound to the detriment of the candidate doing the negative attacking. In other words, when you go negative, your own negative ratings go up.

19. That is the price you pay for trying to destroy your opponent, instead of focusing on a positive, uplifting, inspirational message.

20. This thing is going to be a total mess.

21. Two other things to consider:

The late entrant. Could there be a candidate who we are not yet talking about who could wait a bit and watch this circular firing squad destroy itself, and then come into the race unbloodied and clean and "above the fray"?

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump boasts about checking gas prices while in motorcade: 'You think Hillary Clinton would've done that?' Harry Reid on Iraq War vote: 'It tainted my heart' New Hampshire is ‘must-win’ state for Warren, says veteran political reporter MORE. Without serious primary opposition and as long as she doesn't self-implode, she ought to be the Democratic nominee in 2016. If the GOP destroys itself in this circular firing squad analogy, she is going to profit. The Republican nominee will be carrying huge negatives out of the primaries. He will be exhausted, overexposed and perhaps broke for a while. Clinton will be sitting there with that Cheshire cat smile — and $2.5 billion in the bank.

22. The shame of this all is that a Republican can win in 2016. But the path to victory is not through negativity. It is through a breakthrough, inspirational, frankly revolutionary message. So far, no candidate is trying this approach.

LeBoutillier is a former Republican congressman from New York and is the co-host of "Political Insiders" on Fox News Channel, Sunday nights at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. He will be writing weekly pieces in the Contributors section on the "State of the 2016 Race."