So Hillary Clinton is thinking about delaying the start of her presidential campaign until the summer, according to Politico’s Mike Allen. As a strategic move, this makes sense to me: Why spend money and time getting a head start in a race where she has no credible opponent? All this could possibly do is give her time to make gaffes and give her opponents insights they could use to get a jump on their campaigns against her.
Of course, they'll be doing that anyway. All across the land, there are nameless moles digging through Clinton’s every utterance … every Gawker post, every speech video and high school term paper. And at every campaign office, people are even now mapping out the strategies that our presidential hopefuls will use to run against her.
The advantage of being the front-runner is that she has all the money locked up, and she won’t need to run to her left in the primaries in order to placate the base. The disadvantage is that she has no idea who she is running against, while everyone else knows exactly what they will be fighting.
They'll have over a year to lock in their message – no, better than that, they'll be able to start their campaigns against her during the primaries, while she can’t mount an effective response until she knows who her opponent will be. Any rejoinder she makes before then will only serve to raise the profile of the people making the most effective criticisms.
Meanwhile, she'll need to spread her opposition research across multiple candidates, while all of theirs is laser-focused on her. To be sure, she'll also benefit from the research they do on each other. But of course, the winning candidate will also have the benefit of everyone else’s anti-Hillary research operations – and they’re more likely to pool their research for the general campaign, while they probably won’t be sharing any unused tidbits with the Democrats.
Overall, I wonder if this early lead won’t ultimately turn out to be a disadvantage, not just because the candidates will be focused on her, but because the public will be, too. By the time she actually gets around to running against an opponent, she will already largely be defined in the public mind, and not by her side. People will have been listening to Republican campaigns talking about Hillary Clinton more than they'll have been listening to her talk about herself.
Her best hope is a bruising primary season from which the Republican victor staggers forward, bloody and battered and ready for Clinton to deliver the killing blow. That wouldn’t exactly be surprising, given the last race. But I suspect that by then, Clinton will be nursing a few wounds herself.
Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. Readers may send her email at email@example.com.