Hillary Rodham Clinton's nomination has always appeared to be an inevitability, so much so that Democrats have all but ignored the controversies over her travel expenses, her family's foundation, big checks from foreign governments, and a team that appears slow to respond to it all.
When it came to "Hillary for 2016," the question was always "when," not "if."
But politics is full of surprises–- like a particularly ill-timed e-mail scandal that has some Democrats wringing their hands at the possibility, however slim, that Mrs. Clinton may be forced to drop out of the race.
Now reverberating across the political blogosphere is this question: What if Hillary doesn't run?
"For Clinton to pass on the race ... would be absolutely disastrous for her party's chances of holding onto the White House next November," writes The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake.
And while, bombshell revelation notwithstanding, it's unlikely Clinton will drop out, the possibility has reignited the search for a Plan B within the Democratic Party.
As Larry Hogden, the Democratic chairman in Iowa’s Cedar County, told Politico, “It adds more reason to get other people involved in this process, to make sure we have other strong, good candidates running. Because, who knows? She could implode totally.”
The only problem? Clinton has been the presumptive nominee for so long, there is no Plan B.
Let's walk through a few options:
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren: The most watched Democrat after Clinton, she's a liberal hero and populist candidate that the left wing of the party is aching for. But liberal candidates usually struggle to win the nomination (red states play a large role in that), and Senator Warren's electoral record is thin, as the Times reminds us.
Vice President Joe Biden: Perhaps the second-most watched Democrat, he is generally well-liked and is the logical heir to the Obama White House. He's also run for president twice, isn't taken seriously by many in the media, and will be in his mid-70s by 2017.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley: He's got an impressive record, liberal bona fides, and he's serious about running. But oddly, as good as Mr. O'Malley looks on paper, he polls very low (behind Clinton, Biden, Warren, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and even leftist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in most prospective primary polls) and the party doesn't appear to take him seriously.
By the time you get to the Jim Webbs (no following likely), Senator Sanders (likely too liberal), and John Kerrys (likely too old) of the party, you're scraping the barrel.
At a time when the Republican field is more crowded than a Hollywood Obama fundraiser, why are there so few good Plan Bs on the Democratic front?
Again, the Hillary Factor. Her dominance has largely prevented other Democrats from seriously preparing to run, and she's also already sucked up the best donors and staff.
What's more, the Democratic party has a shallow bench to work from because "the two midterm elections since President Obama’s 2008 victory have wiped out an entire generation of Democratic state officeholders, costing the Democrats more than 900 state legislative seats and 11 governorships, according to an internal Democratic National Committee assessment released last month," as the New York Times notes.
But why, as Fox News' Howard Kurtz asked, is a Plan B conversation being held?
"Why, having been through far worse scandals, would she walk away from a race that is hers to lose?" he asks. "Her husband survived Gennifer Flowers and draft-dodging allegations. She’s just going to quit over a personal e-mail server?"
If you take a step back, all the Democratic hand-wringing over the e-mail scandal and Plan Bs and a dark, Hillary-less future is for naught. In all likelihood, the flap over her private e-mails will probably affect far fewer voters than now appears to be the case. Clinton will likely run and win (the 2016 Democratic nomination).
Scrambling to cobble together a Democratic field sans Clinton?
As Mr. Kurtz said, it's "little more than reckless speculation, filling the void left by the non-race on the Democratic side."