Invisible Primary ’16. Ugh.

At Salon today, Alex Pareene alternates between ridiculing and reporting early, early speculation on the 2016 presidential field.

Here’s the best of his ridicule:

The most important lesson of terrible premature presidential-campaign speculation is that nearly everyone who engages in it will be terribly, hilariously wrong. It doesn’t matter if you’re a complete buffoon, like Dick Morris, author of the 2007 classic “Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race,” or someone fairly serious and “savvy,” like New York Times politics reporter Matt Bai, who posited current nobody Mark Warner as the future of the party in a 2006 Times magazine cover story now best (if barely) remembered for its altered and unflattering photo of the subject.

There will be events no one could’ve predicted — like “obvious” future Republican presidential contender George Allen using an obscure racial slur on camera, or John Edwards being generally John Edwards — that destroy promising careers in an instant.

And there is also the plain fact that the sort of politicians that Washington-based reporters and pundits and political operatives like, and the sort of politicians they think “voters” would like, are often people who have no appeal for anyone outside of their districts or the Beltway. (Like Evan Bayh. Jon Huntsman. And Mitch Daniels, probably.)

All true. But Pareene trudges on to review the early odds for 2016, dyspeptically evaluating in turn Andrew Cuomo, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Kristen Gillebrand and (somewhat eccentrically) Christine Gregoire among the Democrats. As for the Republicans, assuming Romney’s not in the White House running for re-election, Pareene makes this very good point that is sure to annoy the same people who have been telling us Romney was a shoe-in from the get-go this year because he was “next in line:”

If [Romney] loses, the party likely learns the lesson it always learns and lurches to the right for a while, and your front-runner in that case (assuming he doesn’t blow up the party at the convention, I guess?) is Rick Santorum. I made this point already and Dave Weigel concurred. He’s a “true conservative” and he looks like he’ll “come in second” this year, which are both substantial advantages in the Republican race.

So don’t discard those links to the Ave Maria speech, or any other golden oldies from the current Santorum campaign. According to some definitions, the “invisible primary” for 2016 is underway even before the visible primary of 2012 concludes. And all that Pizza Ranch food the Santorum family consumed in Iowa last year was a digestive-track investment in a glorious future.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.