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I’m not the first to point this out, but . . .

. . . unless they’re nominating an incumbent for re-election, Republicans choose the next logical successor as their presidential candidate.

It’s been that way for nearly 50 years. And it tells me whom they’ll probably pick this time.

The next logical successor can be a literal successor: the vice-president to the last Republican president. The G.O.P. nominated Richard Nixon, Eisenhower’s V.P., in 1968. And the party named Vice-President George H.W. Bush to succeed President Reagan in 1988.

Sometimes — actually, often — the G.O.P. nominee is the one who came in second for the nomination last time.
> Ronald Reagan came in second to nominee Gerald Ford in 1976. The next time around, in 1980, Reagan was the nominee.
> In 1988, Bob Dole came in second to George H.W. Bush. Bush ran for re-election in ’92 but failed. Whom did the Republicans nominate in ’96? Dole.
> In 2000, when G.W. Bush won the nomination, the runner-up was John McCain. The next time the nomination was up for grabs — in 2008, after Bush had served his presidential terms — the Republicans picked McCain.
> McCain’s 2008 runner-up was Mitt Romney. Three guesses as to who was the nominee in 2012.

Or the nominee can be a familial successor, as when the G.O.P. nominated George H.W. Bush’s son George W. in 2000 to take back the White House after the Clinton interregnum.

So let’s look at the 2016 race.

Category 1: The last G.O.P. president’s vice president. That would be Dick Cheney, but he doesn’t seem interested in running for president.

Category 2: The previous cycle’s runner-up. The number-two Republican last time was Rick Santorum. And sure enough, he’s running.

Category 3: The familial successor. This time, he’s a double successor: Jeb Bush, the brother of the last Republican president and the son of the second to last.

So I think the nominee will be either Santorum or Bush. Ted Cruz may thrill the Tea Party and Scott Walker may be the billionaires’ choice, but unless something happens to blow the campaign wide open, it’ll be Santorum or Bush.

Some follow-up notes:

Why do Republicans pick the next logical successor? They may simply find that it makes sense or that they like a guy who’s worked his way up and whom they’ve gotten to know. Or, as conservatives, Republicans respect the kind of primogeniture-style tradition that leads to picking the next in line for the throne.

By the way, Democrats don’t work that way.
>Sometimes, they nominate a vice-president: Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Al Gore.
>Sometimes, they pick “outsiders” who are relatively new to the national political stage: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Michael Dukakis, Barack Obama.
>And once, they went for a guy who had nearly a decade of national political experience but talked sort of like an outsider: George McGovern, the “prairie populist.”