01/06/2014 06:36 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

What Time Is Hillary Clinton Running For President?

Win McNamee via Getty Images

It is now 2014, which means that our interest and attention must now turn to the upcoming election. In 2016.

Yes, that seems stupid! But the relentlessness of presidential election-year speculation gives no quarter to anyone. Least of all, rumored candidate and would-be frontrunner Hillary Clinton, whose "shadow campaign" is the subject of a massively well-reported and informative article from Maggie Haberman that has injected a ton of creatine into the overall 2016 scene. (Biggest takeaway, by the way: Clinton has apparently passed Alex Pareene's "Mark Penn Test," so congratulations to everyone involved.)

Right about now, you are probably asking yourself, "If this 'shadow campaign' exists, shouldn't I assume that a future Hillary Clinton candidacy is now a fait accompli?" From there, you may also wonder, "If there is all this effort to build the foundation of a candidacy, why won't Hillary Clinton just come out and be forthright about her intentions?" The answers to these questions, officially, are, "Maybe, but you won't be thought a complete idiot if you make that assumption," and, "Because she's not yet decided what she wants to do."

All of this apparently led Jonathan Bernstein, proprietor of the excellent "A Plain Blog About Politics," to try to make some important distinctions between "running for 2016" and "running in 2016." (This is a good time to point out that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is a veteran of light "running for" various presidential elections, but only ran in one. That was in 2012 -- which he made super-duper complicated.)

You should follow Bernstein on Twitter and read his blog on the regular. Here is his dissertation from today.

["@FHQ" refers to Josh Putnam, who runs the FrontloadingHQ blog and who is an all-around guru extraordinare of the fine points of the electoral process. He's an all-around good guy, too. Highly recommended follow.]

Hillary Clinton, then, can be said to be involved in a process known as "keeping your options open." And as it turns out, that can entail a lot of work. (Haberman, for example, describes how a pair of super PACs, Ready For Hillary and Priorities USA, needed some assistance working out how they would collaborate on a possible Clinton run without being in open conflict with one another.) Of course, the whole lure of "keeping your options open" may also be a pleasant experience (or even fun!), because ultimately, you are committing to nothing.

At least, it's fun for the candidate, anyway! Right now, a lot of people are working to provide Clinton with a solid campaign should she decide to run. If she doesn't, they'll have done much of that work for naught. But them's the breaks, and it's been known to happen. If you cast your mind back to the very early part of the 2012 run-up, you might recall that veteran GOP campaign manager Ed Rollins worked very hard to keep Mike Huckabee's "options open" for a good long while, only for Huckabee to ultimately decide that the "not running for president" option was the one he wanted to pursue.

Rollins ended up working for Michele Bachmann instead. There were some regrets!

But look, presidential speculation is going to happen, and it's not entirely without value. All Bernstein is advocating here is for those who want to pursue the activity of 2016 speculation do so in a calm, realistic and sensible fashion.

For this heresy, Bernstein will probably be summarily executed.

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not?]



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