Hillary Clinton should prepare herself for a dogfight - not a coronation tour
Hillary Clinton is riding high in the betting for 2016, but this week was filled with reminders, if they were needed, that her dream of becomingAmerica's first female president cannot be accomplished without indignity.
Officially, Mrs Clinton is currently enjoying her first spell outside public life for 30 years, but in practice her undeclared campaign is already filling the vacuum left by an increasingly marginalised and irrelevant-looking second-term president.
While Barack Obama was off fundraising in California this week, it was Mrs Clinton who was drawing all the attention on cable news.
First, Monica Lewinsky broke her silence of a decade, writing inVanity Fairthat she found it "troubling" that, as she saw it, Mrs Clinton "blamed not only me, but herself", backhandedly raising questions about the former First Lady's moral and emotional judgment.
Then Republicans in Congress voted to form yet another panel to investigatethe handling of the Benghazi attacks in which two American diplomats and two CIA officers were killedtowards the end of Mrs Clinton's time at State.
Mrs Clinton, who is certain to be called to testify, has already described the Benghazi episode as her "biggest regret" while in office, and conservatives will waste no opportunity to remind voters of a security debacle they say the White House deliberately tried to whitewash.
Then there was Boko Haram. Mrs Clinton's tweet drawing attention to Nigeria's kidnapped schoolgirls under the hashtag "#BringBackOurGirls" was initially hailed as a demonstration of her global influence, with Michelle Obama and other influential people joining a spontaneous campaign.
But conservatives were soon rushing to the television studios to point out that Mrs Clinton had repeatedly declined to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization while she was Secretary of State. Yet another attempt to question her record.
Despite Republican protestations to the contrary, none of these attacks are even close to killer blows. They might play well with the party's Hillary-hating base, but the Lewinsky scandal is old news, Benghazi has become a partisan hobbyhorse and the Boko Haram "scandal" was actually a decision justified at the time by a perfectly reasonable desire not to internationalise a regional terror outfit.
All the same, they do point to the bare-knuckle nature of the fight that lies ahead. If Mrs Clinton decides to run for president she cannot expect to rise above the fray as she did while serving as Secretary of State.
On occasion recently Mrs Clinton displays a distinctly lofty tone. When she came out in favour of same-sex unions after leaving the State Department's Foggy Bottom headquarters, she equated equality for gay marriages to her own experience of her daughter Chelsea's marriage, adding with regal condescension that "I wish every parent that same joy".
It is not a tone that works well on the stump, and, as she demonstrated when flying off the handle during earlier Benghazi hearings, and in her nasty primary fight with Mr Obama in 2008, Mrs Clinton's record in televised debates is shaky.
She may have no serious challenger for the Democratic nomination this time - polls put her 50 points clear of Joe Biden, the vice president and her nearest rival - but the presidential race will always be close given the structural divisions of modern American politics.
Try as she might to differentiate herself, Mrs Clinton will also be running as a "third term" president, and unless he lifts his rock-bottom approval ratings, Mr Obama will leave her none of the foundation of popularity that Ronald Reagan bequeathed to George H W Bush, or Bill Clinton to Al Gore (who then squandered it).
If Republicans can find a fresh, plausible candidate ruthlessly focused on improving middle class lives rather than the Culture Wars, then Mrs Clinton will have to struggle to explain to voters why they should embrace what Republicans will tout as "four more years" (of failure).
Perhaps the twin novelties of being a "first woman president" and a "first First Lady to be president" will be sufficient to get her over the line, but she shouldn't bet on that.