Can Anyone Stop Hillary?

Why Clinton's 2016 candidacy-without-a-campaign dominates the political galaxy

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Photo-illustration by Justin Metz for TIME. Pants: Don FarrallGetty Images, Man: BLOOM imageGetty Images, Shoe: yasinguneysuGetty Images

Correction Appended January 16, 2014

Hillary Clinton has not decided whether to run for President again. I have this on good authority, despite a recent barrage of reports detailing the many moves that signal a campaign in the making. People close to Clinton and familiar with her thinking insist that she hasn't made a decision. Moreover, "it's not a decision she is going to make anytime soon," says one insider.

But what about the high-ranking personnel from President Obama's political brain trust who are moving into jobs in pro-Clinton groups? The sources patiently repeat themselves. Clinton, they inform me, is very busy writing a memoir of her work as Secretary of State while also replenishing the coffers of her family's charitable foundation to support her work on behalf of women and children. "She's going to continue to go about her life the way she has chosen to," says the insider. "She's not being coy. When she says she hasn't decided, she hasn't decided."

But what about the recent email blast that retired general Wesley Clark, a Clinton diehard, sent to past supporters whose names are embedded in Clinton's database, exhorting them to rally to Hillary's cause? "People wanting her to decide, or people getting anxious about it, are working on their own timeline, and frankly there is only one person whose timeline counts," says an increasingly exasperated insider. "Anyway, she could stand on the White House lawn tomorrow and say she wasn't running, and no one would believe her."

Perhaps it all comes down, in Clintonian fashion, to definitions. It depends on the meaning of the word decide. And on the meaning of the word run. In Hillary Clinton, the United States of America is now experiencing a rare, if not unprecedented, political phenomenon; she requires a new lexicon. Clinton is so globally famous, so politically wired and so primed for the presidency after two campaigns at her husband's side and one epic race of her own that her life as a private citizen has become virtually indistinguishable from her life as a candidate.

We can believe that she hasn't "decided" to "run" because there is almost nothing that a decision would change for her. It would be like Jennifer Aniston deciding to get her picture in a supermarket tabloid or Warren Buffett deciding to be quotable. All outward behaviors remain the same. Whether she raises money from wealthy donors for the Clinton Global Initiative or coaxes cash for a presidential campaign, the canapés and grip-and-grins are identical for Clinton. Her stump speeches while accepting awards for past achievements are barely distinguishable from speeches she might give while collecting endorsements in Iowa living rooms. The charming handwritten notes she has been showering lately on far-flung friends serve to nurture political support, whether or not that is the intention, because friendship and politics are inseparable after half a century on the hustings.

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