I know it's disturbingly early to get into this, but here is my out-of-nowhere prediction for the 2016 presidential race: Hillary Clinton vs. Rand Paul.
Ms. Clinton is an easy pick. She was on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart on Tuesday night looking relaxed, engaged and quick-witted. Mr. Stewart spent most of the time trying to box her into admitting she is running for president. Ms. Clinton made no announcement, of course, but she gave not a single signal that would suggest she will not be a candidate.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is preparing to fight her for the nomination. Vice President Joe Biden is still talked about as a candidate. Democrats on the left of their party would really prefer to see Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren be the first female president. For them, Hillary is too friendly with the Pentagon and Wall Street.
Let's face it, though, Mr. O'Malley is probably running to be on the ticket as a vice-presidential candidate and neither Mr. Biden nor Ms. Warren will get into it unless Hillary suddenly runs off to become a Buddhist nun. In other words, barring a shocking development, Hillary's the one.
The Republican nominating contest is likely to be far more interesting. The last time around, Mitt Romney took the nomination almost in spite of himself. He had all the allure of a mannequin in the Macy's men's department, but was lucky enough to be competing with the occupants of a Ringling Brothers clown car.
This time around, one of those clowns is likely to be back -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He could be joined by another Texan, Sen. Ted Cruz -- basically a male Michele Bachmann with a Harvard law degree while Perry is a slightly dumber George W. Bush.
Along with the two Texans, there might be two Floridians, ex-Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio. A Bush candidacy would be built on the dubious notion that America is ready for a third Bush presidency and that the GOP is willing to nominate someone to the left of Sean Hannity. Rubio, meanwhile, is a young, good-looking Cuban-American with an attractive family. He's a fresh-faced boy possessed by the ghost of Herbert Hoover.
Chris Christie? If the bridge scandal didn't sink the New Jerseygovernor's chances, the onslaught of right wing attack ads probably will. (They've already begun.)
Then there's Rand Paul. His father, Ron, the former Texas congressman, was the only Republican candidate four years ago who did not spend every debate trying to prove he was a more doctrinaire conservative than the other guys. His libertarian views on social issues and, even more, on foreign policy, won him a fervent following among younger, independent voters. Ron Paul, however, was always a sideshow. His son could be the main event.
In recent days, the younger Paul has been trading insults with Rick Perry. Perry believes in the saber-rattling, robust foreign policy that Dick Cheney championed for eight years as the president's puppet master. Rand Paul, like his father, thinks it is time for the United States to stop engaging in costly wars of choice that entangle the country in the endless troubles of feuding strangers on the other side of the world.
In a Washington Post article that someone must have written for him, Mr. Perry branded Mr. Paul as an isolationist who is "curiously blind" to the dangers threatening America. Mr. Perry lumped him with those who, during the Cold War, "promoted accommodation and timidity in the face of Soviet advancement."
Mr. Paul shot back in Politico, saying Mr. Perry is part of the neoconservative cabal who rush to intervene in global hotspots without considering the consequences of their actions and who now want to leap back into the quagmire of Iraq. "I ask Gov. Perry: How many Americans should send their sons or daughters to die for a foreign country -- a nation the Iraqis won't defend for themselves?" Paul wrote "... I will not hold my breath for an answer. If refusing to send Americans to die for a country that refuses to defend itself makes one an 'isolationist,' then perhaps it's time we finally retire that pejorative."
Paul may be on to something there. Isolationist is a term that may not resonate as it once did, even with Republicans, many of whom do not think the country got its money's worth from the $2 trillion investment in Iraq. Younger voters, in particular, do not shudder when they hear a word that gained political heft back when their grandparents were kids.
Rand Paul will inherit his father's youth brigade, and their numbers will be dramatically boosted by the fact that, unlike daddy, he could actually win the nomination. And if he gets it? Then the Clinton/Paul debates over foreign policy will really mess with conventional minds. Just imagine the Democrat being the one who voted for the Iraq War and the Republican being the one telling America to just stay home.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go tolatimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.