09/09/2014 03:12 pm ET Updated Nov 09, 2014

As Long As We're Talking About 2016, How Will They Manage the Republican Playoff With 20 Candidates?

Hillary Clinton may be getting all the attention, but her path to the Democratic Party nomination for the Presidency in 2016 looks to be virtually clear of any serious opponents at this point. It's her race to lose and she is starting out alone at pole position with not even a dark horse contender surfacing as yet unless you count Joe Biden, who has yet to make clear whether he will run regardless of what Clinton does. Martin O'Malley of Maryland may persist to the point of announcing a candidacy, but one suspects he hasn't yet had "the talk" with the Clintons about his "future in politics." Elizabeth Warren probably should run in 2016 if she is to ever make a race (she's only four years younger than Clinton), but she continues to actively disown support for her candidacy. So we will presumably get Hillary, "ready" or not.

The Republicans, however, have a field that would crowd the track at the Derby and looks much like the NBA playoffs or even the college year-end tournament. At last count, there were at least 20 currently "mentionable" potential GOP candidates. With the Party determined to run a short, efficient and, if possible, "lamestream, media-free" series of tightly-controlled "debates" with no tough questions from out of "left field," it's hard to see how to accommodate anything other than some sort of literal playoff system. Maybe they can even borrow big-time college football's special playoff committee to narrow the field down. At least that could keep the field down to 20, since Condi Rice, an otherwise possible GOP contender, is also on the football selection committee!

Let's take a look at the Republican lineup to face Hillary Clinton and examine in a "nutshell" (excuse the expression) their respective appeal and chance of making the final cut.

Start with the six Governors (GOP folks think we need a "proven executive"):

Rick Perry (Texas): If at first you don't secede, try try again, at least for the Presidency of the country you want to shrink. A man of indictment but he hopes not of conviction, he'll focus on the ISIS problem on the Rio Grande (which is certainly no farther from Iowa than Guatemala is from Texas) but is unlikely to again threaten the Federal Reserve Chair with "Texas justice" until he himself finds out what that is, exactly.

Mike Pence (Indiana): A lot closer to Iowa, and a lot closer to the Koch Brothers, whose money may make a real difference in 2014 outcomes thanks to Citizen's United. But maybe he's 2016's Mitch Daniels (the "perfect candidate" who never runs).

John Kasich (Ohio): The ultimate swing state in the Electoral College, and his track record as governor has clearly improved since his early attacks on unions backfired. Plus the nominating convention is in Cleveland. But unless he's got LBJ (LeBron James) as his running mate, he may prove more like a VP himself.

Scott Walker (Wisconsin): Another 'border state' (to Iowa) candidate, and a recent 'swing state' as well. The Gov the unions love to hate. But he took the fight to them and won, so folks will try to measure how he might take the same skills to Putin and ISIS. However, his legal troubles may turn out worse than Perry's.

Chris Christie (New Jersey): Speaking of legal troubles....his candidacy has been "abridged' in 2014, but he's still in the hunt and is making a push in the 2014 midterms for candidates outside his home state, probably because his popularity in New Jersey has shrunk in inverse proportion to Jersey's rising deficit (a dirty word in the GOP). But he has real NY money behind him.

Bobby Jindal (Louisiana): He's back from one bad speech and a second term focused on campaigning against the "Common Core" K-12 standards, which he wants scrapped in favor of strictly local controls on education, a popular Tea Party issue. But what good did local control do Louisiana?

Now let's list the four Senators (who all start with handicap weight because that's where Obama came from):

Ted Cruz (Texas): A noun, a verb and ObamaCare. But he was born in Canada with a foreign father (at least it's closer than Kenya). Has renounced Canadian citizenship, but would make it up to them with the Keystone pipeline. Will be popular with hard liners for his "no compromise" stance. Helped if Perry implodes again.

Rand Paul (Kentucky): Inherits his father's young libertarians, scares neo-cons with his "left-of-Clinton" foreign policy and ambiguity about Israel, plus has harder line on immigration. All adds up to a "fortress America" candidate which may be attractive after two more years of the wheels coming off in Europe and the Mideast.

Marco Rubio (Florida): Another swing state man with Latin roots, but has turned sour on immigration reform and ultra-hawkish on foreign policy. He and Rand Paul should go one-on-one. But has interesting new ideas on the "safety-net" reform that has to come in the next President's term. Helped (like Christie) if Jeb Bush doesn't run.

Bob Portman (Indiana): Again a daily double with Pence from the same state. Could have (should have) been Romney's running mate. Has done some top tough jobs, maybe too moderate for the Tea Party, but exudes competence and executive presence. Romney without the money. And with a gay son.

Next let's check the House of Representatives; here there are four:

Paul Ryan (Wisconsin): Yet another double with Walker, but has his own game (the budget) and identity from the VP run. More Ayn Rand than Rand Paul, and can go one-on-one with Obama on the numbers, but Obama's not running.

Michelle Bachmann (Minnesota): Yes, again, for lack of a better option, (strangely - what about Marsha Blackburn?) the only Tea Party woman thinking about the race. But does the Tea Party really like any women but Sarah (see below)?

Mike Rogers (House Intelligence Committee Chair): Will embark on a talk-radio career and ride the ISIS horse as long and far as he can; a true alarmist but does not look threatening. Will Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity drown him out?

Peter King (New York): Same foreign policy appeal as Rogers, but will have more sway as a sitting member of the House over the next two years. Possible VP if we're at war.

We're at fourteen already and haven't even got through the five "formers:"

Job Bush: Ex-governor of Florida and permanent brother of George W. Bush. "Soft on illegals" image kills him with the Tea Party, but the most proven executive if times really troubled.

Rick Santorum: Ex-Senator from Pennsylvania, voted out of office and into permanent Presidential candidacy for the Christian right especially if Huckabee again chooses a pot of money over a shot at history.

Mike Huckabee: Ex-Governor of Arkansas and lead guitarist for Christian radio. Polls well in Iowa, but not well-funded.

Mitt Romney: Speaking of money... we know where he's from, but not where he's going. Popular now because he made the right call on Russian trouble-making potential. But if the economy keeps improving, his business experience stays the liability he made it.

Sarah Palin: Ex-governor of Alaska and reality show hostess; sharp tongue gets attention but not respect. Suspect she doesn't really want the exposure of a candidacy for some reason. Shouldn't really be counted except as placeholder for Donald Trump.

And lastly, there is the Herman Cain Memorial List of "Others" candidacies, which includes the aforementioned Trump (who is no longer the "Donald" thanks to the Mr. Sterling, late of the NBA Clippers), and the much more formidable Dr. Benjamin Carter, the neurosurgeon who struck a nerve with the President re: ObamaCare at a prayer breakfast -- can anything be more Republican than that? A Fox News favorite, he may last longer than many expect.

How will this extraordinarily large field be sorted out? Most likely, by limiting the debates to those who meet a gradually ascending minimum in the polls (i.e., 2% in the first, 4% in the second, etc.). This will put an enormous premium on an early start - a fact that most of those listed have already figured out. It's going to be a long winter, twice!

By Terry Connelly, Dean Emeritus, Ageno School of Business, Golden Gate University

Terry Connelly is an economic expert and dean emeritus of the Ageno School of Business at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. Terry holds a law degree from NYU School of Law and his professional history includes positions with Ernst & Young Australia, the Queensland University of Technology Graduate School of Business, New York law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, global chief of staff at Salomon Brothers investment banking firm and global head of investment banking at Cowen & Company. In conjunction with Golden Gate University President Dan Angel, Terry co-authored Riptide: The New Normal In Higher Education.