Why Hillary Clinton could bury the Republican presidential field
Since leaving public life a year ago she has only grown in popularity
So. Hillary Clinton, then. The next president of the United States?
Well, let's see: her closest rival for her own party's nomination is Joe Biden, and a recent poll suggests Clinton has a 61-point lead over the rather mawkish vice-president.
The same poll gives her a 65-point edge over the next most mentioned Democratic contender, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
There are other possibilities, most of them in the same league. That makes Clinton the highest-rated Democratic front-runner ever.
These days, she's writing a memoir, keeping her public appearances to a judicious minimum, and making the odd policy speech; in other words, creating distance between herself and a president whose popularity ratings are, frankly, awful.
Her four years as secretary of state earned her even greater global fame than she took into the job, which was already considerable. And leaving when she did was good timing; the potentially curdled-milk files like Syria, Iran and Israel-Palestine now belong to her successor.
Within her own party, she's like the Borg in Star Trek. Resistance is futile. And at this point, the Republicans don't appear to be much of an obstacle, either.
They're still tearing themselves up publicly — moderate Republicans willing to compromise are struggling with far-right Republicans who prefer to ride the snorting charger of pure ideology wherever it may lead.
Just one example: In case any Latinos might have been thinking of voting Republican, the party's House leader, Speaker John Boehner, announced that immigration reform is dead for the rest of this session. Party right-wingers won't consider it.
Women vote, too, right?
So much for the GOP resolve, after losing the presidency in 2012 and seeing the U.S. Senate slip through its fingers, to court the single fastest-growing bloc of voters in America.
And of course, the party still puts off women, thanks again to its hard-right flank.
Republican leaders may be determined to suppress further damaging declarations by the party's amateur gynecologists (women can't get pregnant from rape, etc.), but they cannot control constant efforts by Republicans at the state level to make abortion difficult, if not impossible, no matter that it's a legal right.
In 2012, Barack Obama carried women voters by a margin of 11 percentage points. You can bet Hillary Clinton's margin would be a lot bigger than that.
Anyway, the game is already on for 2016. Presidential contenders are out there visiting early primary states. At the moment, these are the Republican names in play:
Chris Christie. Until Jan. 9, the impressive New Jersey governor was the Republican big dog for 2016.
Then he held an endless news conference to admit his political operatives had deliberately created days of massive traffic jams on a bridge to New York in order to punish a small-town mayor who wouldn't support him.
Christie insists he had no idea what his aides were up to. But one of them has turned against him, and claims the big guy knew more than he's admitting. If that's true, bye-bye Chris Christie.
Rand Paul. The libertarian senator from Kentucky is beloved of the Tea Party, and is already running hard against Hillary Clinton.
His principal attack line: she shouldn't be president because her husband received oral sex in the Oval Office 19 years ago. Bill Clinton, says Paul, is a "sexual predator," so don't vote for Hillary.
As part of this attack, Republicans tried to draw America's attention to the recently released papers of the late Diane Blair, an Arkansas academic and close friend of the Clintons.
In that collection of notes and memos, Blair wrote that "HRC" (Hillary Rodham Clinton's ubiquitous moniker) swore a lot, thought the media were brainless egomaniacs and hypocrites, preferred reading by herself to schmoozing and pressing flesh, regarded Congress as "a bunch of whiners; no courage," urged Bill Clinton to play "hard ball" with his advisers, privately opposed military intervention in Bosnia (this was back in the 1990s and, HRC allegedly said,"they've been killing each other for 900 years"), thought the oral-sex-performing Monica Lewinsky was a "narcissistic loony-toon," and privately didn't really think oral sex really qualified as sex, in the actual, technical sense of the word. (That's what her husband said, too, at one point, and, in fact, she forgave him.)
All interesting insights, but it's hard to imagine how exactly they will turn Americans against Hillary Clinton, especially American women.
A man with enemies
But back to the Republican contenders.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, another Tea Party hero, made his name organizing the government shutdown last year, during which he and fellow right-wingers actually threatened default on America's public debt.
When congressional Republicans this month tried to quietly avoid a repeat of that fiasco, advancing a bill to raise the debt limit without restriction, a grinning Cruz pulled a procedural stunt meant to cast his own party's leadership as spend-happy wastrels. This is a man with enemies.
Scott Walker. The governor of Wisconsin briefly rose to Republican stardom for successfully taking on public-sector unions. Most Americans have never heard of him.
Bobby Jindal. The governor of Louisiana is a pleasant fellow, an Indian-American capable of boring speeches. A lot of Americans have never heard of him either.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio was a Tea Party favourite, at least until he backed immigration reform, at which point he became an illegal-alien lover. Still, he would appeal to all those millions of Latino voters that the party doesn't seem to want to court any more.
Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, brother of George W., son of George H.W., is a big Republican enigma, and potentially the most serious threat to HRC.
His last name is less and less a liability as time passes, and he's widely regarded as sensible, moderate and capable.
He hasn't ruled out running, but hasn't ruled it in. But he may not want to put up with the inevitable demonization he would face from the Tea Party bunch.
Which brings us back to Hillary.
Probably the toughest knock she faces is that elections are about the future, and she's a candidate of the past; she'll be 69 come election day 2016.
(The voters of Ohio don't appear to mind, mind you. A new poll this week in that must-win swing state had Clinton burying the Republican contenders.)
As 2016 draws closer, expect to see the nastier stuff from the right-wing mottoes and placards that showed up back in 2008: HRC has a big rear end and makes tiresome wardrobe changes (sort of like most men on Capitol Hill), she's some sort of man-bullying harridan, she's ruthless, (as though that's a disqualification in Washington), she keeps an enemies list (ditto), she's "polarizing" (as opposed to, say, Ted Cruz), and of course, Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi. (No space to get into that one here, suffice it to say the Republicans were never able to turn that tragedy into an effective political weapon.)
But here's what really matters: She's HRC. She's bigger than ever. And they're not.