As the long Memorial Day weekend approaches, now is as good a time as any to assess the state of the 2016 presidential race in its very early stages. Two conclusions are obvious: The race is Hillary Clinton's to lose and there is absolutely no front-runner on the Republican side.
Starting with the Democrats, Clinton continues to have no serious challenger for the nomination. Vermont independent and self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders will offer hard-core liberals someone to cheer for in debates. But he will draw few actual votes. And he will likely have to share the anti-Clinton vote with former Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and probably a couple of others.
The only potentially serious challenger to Clinton—Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren—is not getting in the race, barring some massive change of heart or other cataclysmic event. And with a couple of less-potent liberal alternatives, Clinton will face little pressure to tack hard to the left in ways that could make the general election difficult.
Clinton can safely continue her cocoon campaign strategy—talk to preselected voters and avoid the press—for many months to come. It's infuriating to reporters and bad for democracy but Clinton has no real incentive to take questions on her blossoming email problems, the Clinton Foundation's fundraising issues, the Benghazi attack or any other unfriendly storyline.
She might want to start facing those questions late in the year before the actual voting starts just to toughen up for the general election. But she has plenty of time to hone her answers. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's missteps on the Iraq War offer Clinton a clear example of what happens when you wade into press questions without a clear plan of what to say.
On the Republican side, Bush has ceded his spot as the early front-runner. He will still have the most money—possibly by a large margin—but he has struggled badly with his message and faces a likely loss in Iowa with no guarantee of a follow-up win in New Hampshire to gain momentum.