William F. B. O'Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.
A movie scene from the 1987 Cyrano redux, "Roxanne," easily could have been crafted for the 2016 presidential race.
Steve Martin, playing an ever-whistling protagonist, chipperly drops coins into a newspaper vending machine on his way to work one morning. After extracting the paper and scanning its headlines, Martin stands bolt upright and shrieks. He frantically reaches back into his pocket for more change, and returns the paper to the box.
In the 2015 version, the reader could be any Republican or Democrat closely watching the primaries. Stories from both sides of the aisle have been panic-inducing, and the election's more than a year out. God knows what's going to happen next.
If you look at presidential betting sites, such as the Iowa Electronic Markets or PredictWise.com, nothing much has changed in the overall scheme of the presidential race, if you can believe it. Former Gov. Jeb Bush remains the odds-on favorite to win the Republican nod; former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the prohibitive favorite to be the Democratic nominee, and the markets give Democrats a 60 percent chance of recapturing the White House. But on the ground, things look a whole lot bumpier, to say the least.
But who's bumps are potentially more damaging at this point, the Republicans' or the Democrats'?
Ignoring cowardly oddsmakers who refuse to play in the trees -- where's the fun in watching a forest? -- I'd have to say the Democrats, by a nose. Here's why:
Republicans have two significant problems at present -- a Kentucky-Derby-size field and loose cannon Donald Trump. The first complication exacerbates the second. Because the primary field is so crowded -- 17 candidates are running -- none can assemble enough support to surpass the populist showboater in the polls, making the billionaire developer look artificially strong. It's not an inconsequential concern, but it's certain to improve in time.
Once the primaries and caucuses begin, candidates will begin dropping out, and support will coalesce around a smaller and smaller number of candidates. And few expect Trump to pick up supporters he doesn't already have -- he's believed to be "capped" at around 25 percent. That's where the strength of this GOP field should pay dividends. If one good candidate stumbles, another good candidate will rise and fill the void. Someone besides Trump will eventually gain momentum.
All that highlights the great liability on the Democratic side. The Democrats have all their eggs in one basket pretty much: Hillary Clinton's increasingly basket-case campaign. Clinton is growing more and more testy at news conferences, and her advisers are showing fatigued judgment in preparing questionable talking points like the one she delivered recently about the social media site Snapchat. (The site allows users to send messages that disappear on their own.)
The Clinton campaign seems totally oblivious to the seriousness of the investigation into her private email server.
It goes without saying that when you've got the Justice Department crawling through your emails, you've got real trouble. Making bad jokes about it or suggesting that the inquiry is just "politics" suggests a profound tone deafness or a fatal flaw in the campaign.
Even as Clinton continues to outpoll Republicans, it's not beyond the realm of imagination that she will one day drop from the race. I'm not saying that's going to happen, but it's conceivable considering the legal problems she seems to be facing.
Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders may pull off a miracle in New Hampshire, but there's no way he's a national candidate. Former Sen. Jim Webb and former Gov. Martin O'Malley? Are they even trying?
If Vice President Joe Biden is the backup plan to Clinton, the Democratic Party needs another backup plan.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant.