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Hillary: Guns and Benghazi

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Even before we figure out the dynamic of the 2014 election, the 2016 race is taking shape nicely. Three events this week point to an emerging consensus about the presidential race.

The first is Hillary's carefully calibrated comment about gun legislation. She opined that the nation's gun culture has gotten "way out of balance" and we should counter the notion that "anybody can have a gun, anywhere, anytime." Put aside whether you agree or disagree. The real significance is what it tells us about her campaign. She's learned that her "president-in-waiting" strategy of 2008 left her vulnerable to a primary challenge from the left. No more backing away from the concerns of the Democratic base. She's leading the party, early, on the tough ones. If she continues, no one will touch her.

The second is the House Republican special committee on Benghazi, led by tea party favorite Trey Gowdy. Rep. Gowdy has been clear about who he's after: "I'm ready to send subpoenas to Hillary Clinton." Again, put aside whether there is anything to this manufactured hoo-hah. The House is spending time and political capital on attacking Hillary, for real. They've also figured out who they will face.

The third is the victory by mainstream right-winger Thom Tillis in the North Carolina Republican senatorial primary. He got the needed 40 percent against a particularly bizarre set of tea party opponents. Big corporate and establishment money apparently saved the GOP from another wacko Senate candidate. That's not to say Tillis was not pushed way, way to the right (he dutifully denied the existence of climate change). It's just we won't get as much "legitimate rape" and nostalgia for slavery. (North Carolina does sell license plates with the Confederate flag, though.) In 2014 and in 2016, swing states are not likely to veer to the right.

Put it all together and we have two party agreement that Hillary will be the Democratic candidate, that she understands the leftward shift in the Democratic Party, and the Republicans will have to come up with some damn thing to beat her. It won't be Benghazi but they're going to try all kinds of things.

It's by no means a settled dynamic. Obama fatigue will increase. Citizens United money will double from the last cycle. She will make mistakes. The Republicans will cut each other up in the primaries.

Her real political advantage will be her ability to lead a national conversation about issues. Is income inequality a problem and how do you address it? Should the government become more proactive about climate change? Are all tax increases bad? Has Obamacare worked? It's not just that these are important matters. It's that a willingness to talk about them will contrast nicely to the tone and substance of a Republican dynamic full of manufactured crises and rhetoric that will scare off everyone to the left of the Koch brothers. Hillary can dominate the debate and the dynamic just by focusing on substance. And there's not much the tea party can do about it.

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