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 CruzOvernight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves Florida sheriff asks for new leads in disappearance of Carole Baskin's former husband after Netflix's 'Tiger King' drops 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 CarsonKristol-backed group releases ad showing GOP voters blasting Trump over coronavirus response White House slams pastor leading Cabinet Bible studies for linking homosexuality, coronavirus Conservative group hits Trump for coronavirus response in new ad MORE and others) versus the neo-cons (Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioConfusion surrounds launch of 9B in small-business loans Trump officials report billions in small business loans on first day of program Miami Herald: Citadel Securities has set up shop in Palm Beach Four Seasons amid NY outbreak MORE) versus the libertarians (Kentucky Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGeorgia governor says he didn't know asymptomatic people could spread coronavirus McConnell: Impeachment distracted government from coronavirus threat Warren knocks McConnell for forcing in-person Senate vote amid coronavirus pandemic 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 GrahamGraham asks colleagues to support call for China to close wet markets Justice IG pours fuel on looming fight over FISA court Trump says he's considering restricting travel to coronavirus 'hot spots' 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 ClintonFormer Obama adviser Plouffe predicts 'historical level' of turnout by Trump supporters Poll: More Republican voters think party is more united than Democratic voters Whoopi Goldberg presses Sanders: 'Why are you still in the race?' 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."