It is definitely too early to be paying much attention to the 2016 presidential campaign, with the election 17 months away.
But Washington seems blocked by partisan deadlock with the conflict between a Democratic president and Republican Congress as the focal point. So we naturally focus on the future.
Without handicapping the candidates, it may be worth putting the campaign in perspective. Here are some questions and possible answers.
Why are there so many Republicans in the race?
There are now more GOP presidential candidates than anybody can remember there ever being in either party.
Perhaps they believe the conservative wave will crest in 2016, making it the best time to be a conservative candidate. Each candidate wants to seize the opportunity.
With so many candidates, it may not take much support in an early primary to gain traction. The candidate, who wins with only 10 percent in New Hampshire, could overnight be transformed into a strong frontrunner. In theory at least, a Republican moderate could hope for this result.
Possibly, some candidates want simply to increase their standing to enhance their chances for a cabinet appointment by the eventual winner. Or to gain visibility when seeking a lobbyist or television job. And a strong finisher with an identifiable constituency could even hope to get on the ticket as the vice presidential nominee.
Finally, some of the senators obviously have little interest in their current office and have always viewed it as the route to a quick shot at the presidency. For them, it’s a matter of now or never.
As for holding early debates, they are unworkable. It would be better to allow each GOP candidate five minutes to answer the same question than to stage a “debate.”
Why is Hillary Clinton seen as the inevitable Democratic nominee?
All the obvious reasons apply: high name recognition, experience as senator and secretary of state, good funding, extensive political network from her 2008 run, a woman.
But here are some problems: yet another Clinton, not honest about contributions to the Clinton foundation, keeping official emails and probably deleting some, no common touch.
Voters have already given her a negative rating. But she remains the frontrunner, thanks to her air of inevitability, her attractiveness as a female candidate, and some buyer’s remorse about her not having been picked as the 2008 nominee.
Is Hillary Clinton in fact inevitable?
No, there’s plenty of time for her to make a mistake that could fatally damage her campaign. She may seek to avoid damage by saying as little as possible, like Richard Nixon for whom that strategy worked when he was a frontrunner.
And it is too soon to know if the appeal of Sen. Bernie Sanders or former Gov. Martin O’Malley will ignite support. She has something to lose; they don’t. Sanders can promote his agenda; O’Malley may really want to be the vice presidential nominee. Maybe Secretary of State John Kerry will be a late choice.
Why isn’t Jeb Bush the frontrunner for the GOP nomination?
In 2000, his brother got to be frontrunner by amassing so large a war chest early that he simply scared everybody else away. Jeb is helping fund a huge political action committee before he formally announces and then will have to keep it at arm’s length. Though of dubious legality, that may work, but unlike brother George, he has allowed the rest of the pack to get a good head start.
Where does the GOP presidential campaign lead?
The Republican candidate must find a way to be nominated by conservatives, who largely control the selection process, and appeal in the general election to both conservatives and voters who are more moderate than much of the GOP.
In the Republican field, there is a great deal of agreement on limiting the role of government, reducing regulation of the private sector, cutting entitlements, and on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. In short, the candidates mostly share views on what they are against.
The successful candidate, while conservative enough to appeal to conservatives, must find a way to having a broader appeal. Experience in government could prove to be essential.
In the field, though barely registering at this point, a candidate possibly filling this bill is Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the two-term GOP governor of a key swing state. He also served nine terms in the U.S. House.
In 2016, the Republican National Convention will be in Cleveland, which could produce the rare scene of a host state’s governor being the party’s nominee.