Washington -- Here is all you need to know right now about the jockeying for position in the 1996 presidential election -- 10 reasons a conscientious citizen can safely ignore the hints, pleas, evasions and outright lies broadcast by the dozen or so men who would do just about anything to get into or stay in the White House:
(1) If Ross Perot runs for president as an independent egomaniac, President Clinton will be re-elected.
(2) If Jesse Jackson runs as an independent egomaniac, President Clinton will be defeated.
(3) If Pat Buchanan runs for president as an independent zealot, President Clinton will be re-elected.
(4) If the economy is good in the fall of 1996 -- not in significant recession -- and no Americans are being shot at anywhere in the world, President Clinton will very probably be re-elected.
(5) If the economy is bad in the summer and fall next year, President Clinton will be defeated.
(6) If Bob Dole is the Republican nominee for president, he has a 50-50 chance of defeating President Clinton. But he is too noticeably lean and hungry for a man of his age (71) and political station. He could self-destruct as he has in the past.
(7) Newt Gingrich knows he should run for president -- and would like to do it. This is his time in an endeavor where timing is all, and few men get a second chance better than the first. He is the press' candidate because he is the most exciting one in the field. xTC But, in the end, he may not be willing to take the chance of giving up the power beyond his dreams that he has already won. He also may be too exciting by half, and he might make President Clinton the grown-up in the 1996 race, the safer choice.
(8) The odds against Colin Powell running for president are about 10-to-1. But keeping that wispy dream alive is the best book promotion there is for a man who has to make some money. (General Powell for vice president is a better bet, if he is a Republican, which I tend to doubt.)
(9) Too many people are beginning to see Phil Gramm as some kind of nut (like Ross Perot), and he seems to be dropping into the second tier of Republican possibilities -- Pete Wilson, Lamar Alexander and such. They are all dependent on the mistakes of others and events beyond their control.
(10) President Clinton's first term as chief executive is over. Everything he says and does over the next year and a half will be in reaction to events and polls, all part of his re-election campaign.
All of that will almost certainly be the same at the end of this year. Looking forward to the 1996 campaign is a dreary prospect. Looking back on 1996, however, could be fascinating and historic. All of the above candidates and others -- Lowell Weicker, former Republican senator and independent governor of Connecticut, or an economically conservative businessman opposed to the crazed cultural conservatism of new Republican powers -- could follow their self-created paths onto 1996 ballots.
Four candidates? Five. Seven. Nine. If something like that happens, the politics and governing of the United States will change radically. The two-party system would then be a thing of the past.
Could happen. But not this year. We can talk next January.
9- Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.