But lost in much of this talk about Clinton's inevitability is this: Her inevitability -- which is significantly more of a *thing* this year than it was in 2008 -- has relatively little to do with her. She is strong, yes, but it has as much or more to do with the competition (or lack thereof).
Witness this new Quinnipiac University poll.
It shows, as every other poll does, that Clinton holds a massive lead in the Democratic primary and is well over 50 percent. She's at 57 percent, compared to Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) 13 percent and Vice President Biden's 9 percent. Nobody else is above 4 percent.
Watch what happens, though, when you subtract Clinton from the mix. Basically all of her support goes to Warren -- who has been adamant that she isn't running -- and to Biden -- who isn't really seen as presidential timbre, even by many in his own party.
From there, nobody else gains more than two points, and the undecided column doubles, from 14 percent all the way to 28 percent.
None of this is to say that the Democratic field is devoid of potential nominees. But it's illustrative that basically nobody besides Biden and Warren -- who, again, don't really seem like nominee material for different reasons -- can gain traction in a Clinton-less race. And it speaks to the fact that nobody has heard of any of the other candidates.
A Gallup poll in July, for instance, showed just 16 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners could muster a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D). And a Q poll that same month showed fewer than 10 percent of all Americans could rate either O'Malley or former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer (D). That's even less than the lesser-known GOP hopefuls.
As for the other two candidates in the above graphic -- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former senator Jim Webb (D-Va.) -- very few analysts see either as big-time potential contenders. Sanders's status as a kind-of-sort-of-socialist would make him an unlikely nominee for the Democratic party, and there are all kinds of problems with Webb's path to victory -- the greatest of which is his apparent aversion to politics.
That's a pretty undistinguished, unknown crew of opponents for Clinton. And it's a big reason she leads by 40-plus points and has been tagged with the "inevitable" label. There's nobody else in the mix who is a) leaning into a presidential run, b) well-known, and c) viewed as presidential material (sorry, Joe). There is no Barack Obama or John Edwards. And there's arguably not even a Chris Dodd or a Bill Richardson.
If any of those folks were in the mix right now, Clinton's lead would be less than it is today. She would probably still be leading by a significant margin, but her nomination wouldn't seem like such a foregone conclusion.
That massive lead made sense when she was a hugely popular outgoing secretary of state; but today Clinton is a modestly popular national politician -- much like she was in 2008 when she wasn't seen as nearly as "inevitable."
That's not to say someone couldn't emerge to beat Clinton. They could. But the cupboard on the Democratic side seems abnormally bare right now. And that's turning Clinton the Favorite into Clinton the Inevitable.