It's that magical time of the year, so let's play political pretend. Let's imagine Hillary turned down the secretary-of-state job two years ago.

Imagine where she would be now. A leader in the Senate, thinking seriously about challenging a damaged President Obama in 2012, that's where.

And she'd be getting tons of encouragement. She'd be free to join and even lead the chorus of outraged Dems and turned-off independents.

Instead, she's checkmated herself. By hitching her wagon to the shooting star Obama was in 2008, she effectively took herself out of the next presidential election.

It seemed like the smart thing to do at the time. Obama's smashing victory and huge popularity sparked talk of a generational realignment in favor of Democrats.

She'd come so close in the primaries that State was the only job that didn't seem like a demotion. Besides, signing on to his team wasn't viewed as giving up anything in 2012 because there was no hope of challenging him. And 2016 was too far off to game.

But the demigod turns out to have clay feet, and Clinton is now stuck to him. He's fallen and she can't get up.

The WikiLeaks fiasco puts an exclamation point on her predicament. The White House is hanging her out to dry -- Obama still has said nothing about the largest security breach in American history -- but she can hardly protest the leading role because the latest batch was mostly State Department cables. It happened on her watch.

Her appearance says it all. Plump and robotic, she looks miserable and thoroughly exhausted.

In a perverse way, Obama's myriad failures actually hurt her more than they hurt him. He could still find redemption through re-election, while she's left with two unappealing choices. Both smack of political dead ends.

She can stay in her job and hope he wins a second term. If he decided to keep her on, and she said yes again, it would mean four more years of flying around the world while the real policy decisions are made in the White House.

Or she can leave at the end of the term, whether he wins or not, and carve out a new role for herself. There would be a book, windfall speaking fees and international celebrity status, much like her husband, only without having achieved the presidency.

The one thing she can't do is probably the thing she would like most -- resign and challenge him for the nomination. One sign is that she keeps in close touch with a tight circle of political confidants who haven't stopped fantasizing about a comeback.

In theory, it's easy to see how she would run against him -- by picking up where she left off in the late 2008 primaries, when she finally found her voice in appealing to working-class Democrats. Many have abandoned Obama, as the midterms proved.

In the real world, it's too late for that. Resigning to challenge Obama would be seen as a monumental act of betrayal. It would repolarize the party and she'd forfeit the black vote, which could kill her in a general election.

As for 2016, it's still too distant to be an active option. While it's always dangerous to count out a Clinton, there is no obvious move that gets her to the White House.


Michael Goodwin is a New York Post columnist and a Fox News contributor. To continue reading his column, click here.