Is there no end to it? First, Republicans have the temerity to question whether a 66-year-old woman with a six-month recuperation for a head injury should share her medical records before running for president, and then a reporter has the nerve to point out her chutzpah in claiming credit for Iran sanctions that her department actually worked to dilute or stop altogether. A mix of exasperation and defensiveness (see how threatening she is to the mean Republicans!) soon sweeps over the liberal pundit class. And we are off to the races, or at least the 2016 race. Oh, and let’s not forget her chief fan, Lanny Davis, is forming a “truth squad” to rebut whatever emerges from the Benghazi select committee that might smudge her image as one of the great secretaries of State ever (at least according to one of the worst foreign policy presidents ever).

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waits to speak at the World Bank May 14, 2014 in Washington, DC. Clinton and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim joined others to speak about women's rights. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKIBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images Hillary Clinton waits to speak at the World Bank on May 14 in Washington. Clinton and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim joined others to speak about women’s rights. (Brendan Smialowski/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton, it seems, is both inevitable and vulnerable during the next couple of years. She is inevitable as the Democratic nominee because there is no credible competition for the Democratic presidential nomination, and she is more vulnerable than many expected because she will have no concrete opponent until a GOP nominee is selected about two years from now. Republicans have a single target to focus upon, one who is reluctant to engage her critics and has no certain opponent against whom she can counterpunch. (Is she going to go after the speaker of the House? One of the potential nominees?) She is on defense and is likely to be so for quite some time. And then watch out; in the general election, unless she develops a concrete and exciting agenda, look for her to do precisely what President Obama did in 2008 and 2012 — launch a search-and-destroy mission against her GOP opponent.

The certainty that Clinton will be the nominee, albeit one with some real handicaps, may already be affecting Republicans’ calculus. As we have seen in the Senate primaries, Republicans increasingly are worrying about candidate quality. It will be essential to have a credible nominee who will not distract from the message (i.e., it is time to throw out failed liberal ideas to reform government and improve people’s lives). For Republicans to prevail, liberal failure needs to be the target, not their own nominee.

In this regard, an unfortunate victim may be New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. He has not been shown to have lied or had knowledge of the bridge scheme, yet donors and mainstream GOP insiders have been spooked. The Associated Press reports, “Interviews with more than a dozen business executives this week revealed that many maintain positive feelings for the tough-talking governor, but most have lost confidence in his ability to win.” That may change, but the impulse to run candidates without significant and obvious weaknesses may hurt the prospects of some candidates while increasing interests in others.

Understanding both that they will be the target of a blistering negative campaign and that they must expand their base, Republicans will need to figure out what policy shifts may help or hurt. Accurate polling shows immigration reform to be popular with both Republicans and the electorate as a whole, contrary to right-wing spin. So are educational standards, in contrast to the hysteria of a small but vocal band of anti-Common Core advocates. And so are voter ID laws, as a recent Fox News poll showed. (“The 70 percent who support voter ID laws remains largely unchanged in the past few years. Another 27 percent believe the laws are unnecessary. . . . The survey found majorities of every demographic support the law. Ninety-one percent of Republicans offer support, and 66 percent of independents feel the same. Fifty-five percent of Democrats support the laws, while 43 percent oppose them. Opposition to the laws is highest among black respondents, but even there a bare majority, 51 percent, support them. Forty-six percent of African Americans oppose the laws.”) Clinton may still draw high approval, but her policies do not. Republicans need to understand what policies are popular among voters, not MSM or right-wing activists, in order to beat her on an agenda-focused campaign.

And finally, with the Clintons as the embodiment of elite liberals — feeding at the trough of hedge funds and catering to billionaires, instead of working people, on energy — Republicans need to be concerned about getting a candidate who is relatable and a message that is relevant. As to the first, Bill Clinton may be the “boy from a town called Hope,” but Hillary is from deep in the heart of Manhattan and Hollywood. In some way — either immigrant experience (Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida), humble beginnings (Govs. Rick Perry of Texas and John Kasich of Ohio) or blue-collar ethos (Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin) — it will be helpful for the GOP candidate to turn tables on the Democrats, who in 2012 perfected the art of running against a rich, white guy. On the agenda, Republicans would do well to focus on helping people, not preserving the status quo, in order to show that the Democrats defend the status quo at the expense of ordinary people. Republicans would be wise to embrace breaking up big banks; school choice and public school reform; support for focused and effective anti-poverty efforts; pro-jobs energy policy (instead of anti-jobs indulgence of radical environmentalists and an out-of-control Environmental Protection Agency); and entitlement reform to improve programs for the less well-off.

In sum, Republicans eyeing Hillary Clinton should be worried about a quality candidate, an agenda with wide appeal and an effective populist messenger and/or message to go up against the Democrats’ “limousine liberal.” And if by chance the Democrats’ nominee is not Clinton, the Republicans will have a campaign entirely capable of engaging whichever Democratic challenger manages to take her down.