For the past 25 years, Hillary Clinton has been under constant, remorseless attack from members of, in her words, "a vast right-wing conspiracy." To defame and delegitimize; to take down and toss out; to overcome and overthrow — those unnamed conspirators have wanted to get rid of her for a quarter-century.
Few public figures have weathered such storms. George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, John Edwards, Robert Livingston and David Petraeus all wilted and retreated from public life. But Clinton seems to become stronger when attacked.
Watching her toy with her Democratic opponents during last week's debate was interesting. Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, Jim Webb and poor, dazed Lincoln Chafee didn't belong on the same stage. They might as well have been the NFL's four worst defensive backs trying to slow down Peyton Manning in his prime.
To continue the football analogy, the not-so-fab four are Hillary's practice squad. In 2016, she'll have to go head-to-head with whoever emerges from the GOP scrum and try once again to win the Super Bowl of American politics.
Can she do it? The election is a year away, and the Repubs may be peaking too early.
By next summer, Benghazi and Clinton's email server will be distant memories, about as interesting to voters as Warren G. Harding and the Teapot Dome scandal. The Republican nominee will have to stand on his/her own merits, and will have to deal with the kind of scrutiny that Clinton has dealt with since 1991.
Such scrutiny took down John McCain, Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney. It helped doom George H.W. Bush's 1992 re-election bid. True, Clinton lost to Barack Obama, but through no fault of her own. At the time Obama was, like John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, unstoppable by mere mortals.
Do the Republicans have a Reagan, an Obama, even a Romney? If they do, she/he has yet to join the race.
Compared to the second-tier Dems running against Clinton, the GOP lineup is pretty impressive. John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina seem mildly presidential; that is, you can kinda/sorta imagine them in the White House. Donald Trump is a great brand manager, while Ben Carson knows a lot about brain surgery.
Three informal tests are available for candidate assessment: the Rock Star test, the Drug Lord test, and the Putin test.
• The Putin test: a closed room, a table, two chairs, Vladimir Putin and your candidate negotiating. Is the candidate intelligent, experienced, tough and informed? Or will he/she be outsmarted, outfoxed and outflanked by the wily Russian? Clinton is clearly No. 1 on this list — for the rest, welcome to the NFL. You're going down.
• The Rock Star test. If your candidate were a Rock Star, who would he/she be? Trump: Billy Ray Cyrus, a one-hit wonder with plenty of money and an accomplished daughter. Ted Cruz: Ted Nugent. Carly Fiorina: Jennifer Paige. Remember "Crush," certified gold in 1998? Neither do I. Marco Rubio: Desi Arnaz, a likable lightweight. Sanders: Bob Dylan. Fiery, eccentric young man becomes fiery, eccentric and slightly weird old man. Hillary: Madonna. Again, no contest!
• The Drug Lord test. Consider Joaquin Guzman (El Chapo), who heads the Sinaloa Cartel. Pursued by the Mexican government, by his murderous rivals and by the U.S. Government, El Chapo has twice escaped from prison. Most recently, he escaped from Mexico's equivalent of the Florence Supermax, thanks to a mile-long tunnel drilled by his associates. He eluded capture again last week. The question: Are your candidate's supporters as loyal, resourceful, close-mouthed and skillful as El Chapo's superb capos? Could the candidate credibly head a multi-billion dollar crime syndicate? Trump and Hillary are the only choices here, although some may point out that Chris Christie, as governor of New Jersey, does in fact run a multi-billion dollar crime syndicate. If so, maybe he should head the list — especially if he escapes from prison.
So will Hillary and Bill move back into the White House? Will they bring back Arkansas chic, and hire Kaki Hockersmith to re-redecorate the old dump? Will Joltin' Joe Biden jump in the race?
Dunno, but today it's 2008 all over again. The race is Hillary's to lose.