This has been a bad week for 2016 hopefuls.
First, Hillary Clinton showed some political rust in her first round of major interviews, getting into an unnecessary spat with NPR's Terry Gross over gay marriage.
Then, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer detonated his nascent campaign in spectacularly weird fashion, telling the National Journal that "men in the South, they are a little effeminate" and offering a horrendously inappropriate analogy for Senator Dianne Feinstein's criticisms of the CIA.
That same day, news broke that New Jersey prosecutors are readying to indict four members of Governor Chris Christie's inner circle — and they think that they'll eventually get Christie, too. "Big-ticket donors are gamblers; in politics, there are no certainties," wrote Scott Raab and Lisa Brennan in their report. "The safest bet that is obvious: there's no future for Chris Christie in the White House."
And later that day — it was a busy day — a federal appeals court released 268-pages of documents from a lawsuit alleging that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was part of "a criminal scheme" to coordinate recall election spending with independent groups that, legally, his campaign wasn't allowed to coordinate with.
With the possible exception of Schweitzer's bizarre comments (which are arguably remarkable less for their content than for the fact that Schweitzer made them, on the record, to a Washington-based reporter he barely knew), none of these stories will necessarily matter a year from now, or even a month from now. Clinton's got plenty of time to sharpen her blade. The indictments against Christie's staff might fail to materialize. The case against Walker looks overblown, and it's possible a judge will squash it totally in the very near future.
But it's a reminder that we have literally no idea which candidates will be standing — much less running — when the 2016 race begins in earnest. Frontrunners fall. Politicians end up engulfed in scandal. Strong candidates prove to be weak campaigners. It wasn't that long ago that Texas Governor Rick Perry was expected to dominate the weak Republican field or that Hillary Clinton was going to cruise to the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. It wasn't that long ago that John Edwards was running for president even as he cheated on his terminally ill wife.
This is the problem with almost all punditry about 2016 candidates: what we think we know about them now is, in many cases, going to be proven utterly wrong over the next 18 months.
In March of 2006 — so, around this time in the 2008 presidential cycle — Chicago Magazine published a profile of then-Senator Barack Obama arguing that he probably wouldn't run for president. "Major pollsters are already surveying voter preferences for 2008, but Obama's name is not included on their list of possible presidential candidates." The article goes on to quote a slew of political professionals who warned that it was too early for Obama to run, and praised the candidate for his patience. "Obama seems to be resisting what his consultant David Axelrod calls 'breathing those intoxicating fumes' of presidential fever," Chicago reported.
2016 is a long time away.