The 2016 Republican presidential primary unofficially kicked off this week -- more than two years before the first votes will be cast.
And Republicans have themselves to blame for it.
The contrast in early jostling for position in the GOP versus the static nature of the Democratic field has everything to do with how the GOP is currently constituted and the personalities involved.
Put simply: The GOP primary can't help but happen right now. The party demands it, and the probable candidates are only too happy to give it to them.
Witness this week.
The tail-end of Chris Christie's gubernatorial reelection campaign in New Jersey had all the trappings of a presidential campaign launch. Christie granted national media interviews in the final hours of the campaign, being so bold as to talk openly about running for president as voters were deciding whether to send him back to his current office -- a trick few politicians would dare to attempt.
Once he did win, Christie implored Washington to look at the example he had set in Trenton, N.J., essentially toying with the national media's -- and his own party's -- thirst for him to lean into a 2016 campaign.
Just a day later, reporters sought to get the thoughts of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Christie's landslide win. Paul was at first clearly reluctant to feed the conflict between him and Christie -- a conflict that began when Christie lashed out at libertarian opposition to government surveillance -- and shied away from the reporters' questions. But later in the day he launched a broadside against Christie, calling Christie's use of superstorm Sandy relief money to run ads featuring himself "offensive."
"That's a real problem," Paul said at a committee hearing Wednesday afternoon. "And that's why, when people are trying to do good and trying to use the taxpayer's money wisely, they're offended to see our money spent on political ads. That's just offensive."
In the end, Christie couldn't help but use his reelection win to feed his national profile, and Paul couldn't help but hit back at Christie as the New Jersey governor's stock hit a new high.
The reason: Neither man is your average politician -- or anything close to it. They actually have a lot in common, in that neither of them thinks twice about weighing in on a plethora of issues or setting off intra-party conflict. Neither believes GOP harmony is a greater goal than setting the party on a certain path -- their path.
And not only are they not afraid of such conflict; they seem to thrive on it, because the party itself thrives on it. The tea party for years has girded for conflict with the establishment, and the establishment is increasingly looking to fight back (witness the Alabama special election runoff Tuesday).
The two sides of a very divided party are begging for people like Christie and Paul to take up their mantle and vanquish the other side, and Paul and Christie only grow their profile by obliging.
(And none of this is to mention Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who have been carefully building their legislative cases for a potential presidential run -- Cruz by focusing on Defund Obamacare and Rubio by massaging his immigration bona fides.)
Critics will point out that folks like The Fix are the ones who are really getting the 2016 GOP presidential race off the ground. And to an extent, they're right; we love this stuff.
But we're not the only ones that are only too happy to launch the 2016 GOP campaign. So is the Republican Party itself.
Immigration reform advocate groups are targeting nine House Republicans in hopes of restarting immigration talks on Capitol Hill.
President Obama got an earful from Senate Democrats about the rollout of Obamacare.
Amid speculation he may retire, Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.) will make an announcement about his "future political plans" Thursday.
Vice President Biden congratulated the wrong Martin Walsh.
Jimmy Carter's grandson will challenge Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R).
Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) officially announced his Senate campaign.
Sarah Palin is going on a book tour.
"Democrats begin effort to negatively define Chris Christie before 2016 campaign" -- Philip Rucker, Washington Post
"Close result in Va. governor’s race hardens GOP divisions" -- Marc Fisher and Rosalind S. Helderman, Washington Post