There is an important passage in Nancy Cook's excellent National Journal profile of Carly Fiorina that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about Fiorina's 2016 strategy. The former Hewlett Packard executive, Cook writes, is full of generalities about the field and how she might win -- "until the conversation turns to Hillary Clinton."

Cook observes:

At that point, she becomes much more animated and detailed. "I think her clumsy attempt to channel Elizabeth Warren and say, 'Don't let anyone tell you that businesses create jobs' was not just clumsy, it belies a lack of understanding about the way the economy works," she says. Fiorina also criticizes the former secretary of State's handling of the Benghazi attack and predicts that Clinton "will play the gender card over and over again, which is unfortunate but predictable."

But make no mistake: Fiorina's raison d'être in the 2016 field will be her gender. She would be the anti-Hillary, uniquely equipped to go after Clinton in a field of all men -- or at least, so goes the conventional wisdom.

Cook notes this Fortune headline, from a piece that ends with the kicker "Wouldn't Carly vs. Hillary be fun?":

For Fiorina, who badly lost a Senate bid in 2010 and had a rocky tenure at HP, this isn't necessarily a bad lane to have. At least it is an actual lane, carved out of stereotypical ideas about gender.

What's odd is that Fiorina, if not overtly playing the gender card herself, is certainly benefiting from it in very predictable ways, even as she disavows it. In setting up Clinton as the one who will play the "gender card over and over again," even though there is little evidence so far that Clinton will do that in overt ways, Fiorina makes a compelling case for herself as the foil. Who better to match up against Clinton than another high-powered glass-ceiling breaker?

In Iowa a few weeks back, Fiorina wielded a one-liner that will be repeated: "Like Hillary Clinton, I too have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe. But unlike her, I've actually accomplished something. You see, Mrs. Clinton, flying is not an accomplishment; it is an activity."

Of course, Fiorina is a long-shot, grabbing just 1 percent in the latest New Hampshire poll which puts her below Donald Trump and above Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. And for all those who will write and say it's early, we know this. But we also know that the presidency doesn't go to people who haven't held higher office before, no matter how compelling their arguments are about needing an outsider's touch.

We also know that gender will be an issue. It always is, even when the field is full of men. Fiorina and Clinton don't have to worry about playing the gender card themselves. If they run, it will automatically be played for them, because that's just how identity politics works.