Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has emerged as a possible contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, setting up something of a choice for media organizations. They can either:

Engage in trivial, pointless and rote speculation about how the candidate may fare in the early primary states, as did Peter Beinart in the Atlantic. In a detailed piece on Paul’s prospects, Beinart, a contributing editor to both the Atlantic and National Journal, declares that he’ll be among the fastest horses out of the gate in providing horse-race analysis on 2016. The piece is titled “Rand Paul Is the 2016 Republican Frontrunner” and contains thoughts such as this one: “Paul looks like a better bet than anyone else to finish in the top two in both Iowa and New Hampshire. If he did, he’d establish himself as the leading anti-establishment candidate in the GOP field.” And this one: “In the minds of many voters, [New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie’s personality has morphed from brash to bully.” Beinart almost saves himself by conceding that it’s “absurdly early” and that there’s “no way of knowing at this point” how the 2016 political climate will develop — and he did turn in an earlier, more substantive piece on Paul’s approach to foreign policy.

Or they can:

Produce journalism on who Rand Paul is and what he thinks. A prominent example surfaced in Sunday’s New York Times. Under the bylines of Sam Tanenhaus and Jim Rutenberg, the Times did a ton of reading with the hope of defining the ins and outs of the senator’s ideology. Here’s a helpful part of it:

Mr. Paul’s marathon filibuster in March instantly transformed him into a leader of a party seeking a fresh message, even as he found unlikely fans in the American Civil Liberties Union and Jon Stewart.

But tucked into Mr. Paul’s lengthy monologue — its 76,000 words would fill a 300-page manuscript — was another narrative, told in a sprinkling of obscure references. He cited the Posse Comitatus Law of 1878, which restricted the federal government’s use of the military to enforce laws in this country and is seen by libertarians as a vital barrier to totalitarianism; Lochner v. New York, a 1905 Supreme Court decision that struck down Progressive-era workplace regulations; and the theories of Lysander Spooner, a Massachusetts abolitionist who turned against the North in the Civil War, which he deplored as unjust aggression against the Confederacy.

These arcana drew little notice — except among dedicated libertarians, who took them as evidence of Mr. Paul’s solid mooring in a subset of ideological axioms.

The New York Times sunk a great many resources into this piece — far more than just the thoughts of a contributing editor. That said, the two stories show that it’s never too early to dig into the belief systems of our country’s most prominent politicians, and almost always too early to riff about how they’d fare in New Hampshire.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.