Two competing thoughts come to mind on Hillary Clinton's race for president. She can't possibly win and she can't possibly lose.
It's a disconcerting viewpoint to hold when you're supposed to be a political professional. But at least I'm in good company. Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan touched on the same paradoxical thinking in late May. "On the matter of Hillary Clinton's candidacy," she wrote, "I find myself holding opposite and irreconcilable views: 'That can't possibly work,' and 'She's inevitable.' "
For me, the Clinton-can't-win talk goes roughly like this:
Clinton is the most flawed presidential candidate since Ted Kennedy in 1980. She's insincere, at best; she makes unforced errors on the stump and she has more baggage than Claire Chase luggage. Hardly anyone trusts her 16 months out, and the TV ads haven't even started. No one can survive these money scandals. Not even she.
Clinton-can't-lose is simpler:
Women make up 53 percent of the electorate. They were denied a historic first in 2008 by another history maker, Barack Obama. No way they let that happen again. Clinton's going to get a free ride on the scandals the nearer to a historic presidency she gets. The first-female-president narrative will take over. She's also going to get around 95 percent of the black vote. The math doesn't add up for Republicans.
On any given day, one news item or another can tilt the balance of prognosis into one of those mental camps. A killer op-ed piece this week by "Clinton Cash" author Peter Schweizer about a controversial uranium deal with Russia that involved mega Clinton Foundation donors had me momentarily convinced that a loss, even a primary loss, is inevitable for Clinton.
But you can't beat something with nothing, as the adage goes. And the Republican camp's walk just got a whole lot steeper. The GOP was already tasked with trying to winnow a stampede into a manageable horse race when Donald Trump tossed his pompadour in the ring.
Trump's name recognition and incendiary rhetoric -- "I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will have Mexico pay for that wall" -- will almost assuredly gain him enough of a niche following to qualify for Republicans debates. Once in those debates, Trump will just as assuredly turn them into a three-ring circus. It's what he excels at.
Former Hewlett-Packard chairman Carly Fiorina held a room of 300 New York conservatives spellbound last week. You could hear a pin drop in the room as she spoke. I talked with one of her handlers after the dinner and he told me that Fiorina is having that effect on audiences everywhere.
How does Fiorina or Ohio Gov. John Kasich or Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, or even a front-runner like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, gain momentum in a 10-person debate with Trump lighting off M80s in every sentence?
I'm afraid the answer is, they don't. Unless news outlets make an editorial decision to discount Trump as a showman instead of a candidate, and that's possible, Republican primary candidates could find themselves responding to Trump's bombshell statements for the next year instead of advancing cogent messaging platforms.
In the Republican version of "Survivor," it might behoove the pack to gang up on The Donald now. He's got loose ends and they should be widely exposed. Hoping that Trump goes away isn't a strategy. The Donald doesn't go away.
It's impossible to predict a campaign outcome with any degree of credibility 16 months out. But one thing is certain. With Trump in this race, it's advantage Clinton, in the mental tennis match at least.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant.