News Flash: Hillary Clinton is playing hardball. She’s ambitious, she’s tough, and she really is in this to win.

Whether she succeeds will ultimately depend on real voters, but until they start voting, critics beware.

It wasn’t exactly news last week that David Geffen has nothing nice to say about Sen. Clinton. He has been very open about that for some years now, going to the 92d Street Y in New York in 2005 to decry her as unelectable and overly ambitious.

“She can't win, and she's an incredibly polarizing figure," Geffen said. "And ambition is just not a good enough reason.” (As if men who run aren’t ambitious.)

It’s no secret that he’s angry that her husband didn’t grant a pardon to the Native American activist/convicted murderer whose case he championed; he was going to find another candidate to support, and he did.

None of this would have people talking, still, if Maureen Dowd, the columnist and longtime Clinton critic, didn’t devote her real estate this week to recounting Geffen’s views, to which the Clinton camp responded with unexpected ferocity. It was the response, as much as the column, that turned a former friend-current critic’s complaints about the Clintons into a four day media war.

Did Hillary’s folks overreact?

If their goal was to make Geffen’s remarks disappear, to ensure that as few people as possible heard them, then the answer would surely be yes. If you didn’t read the Dowd column, you certainly heard about it, at least if you pay any attention at all to presidential politics. If you didn’t know that some former friends of the president aren’t any more, you know now. If you thought people weren’t whispering about the former president’s private life, or what that could potentially do to Hillary, you know now that they are.

If people talking about these things is enough to license the press to now go investigate to determine what’s true and what isn’t, then certainly the Clinton camp did too much.

Then again, if you were thinking of confiding your own doubts to a reporter, of speaking out against Hillary, of being the one to actually leak or lie or complain yourself, you might well think again. And again. If you wonder what happens to the person who leaves the reservation and thinks they have the freedom to talk about it without consequences, now you know. They get creamed.

David Geffen, with his billions and his beach house and his legendary power in Hollywood, doesn’t really need the Clintons for anything. He’s slept in the Lincoln Bedroom plenty of times, been in the motorcades; and he doesn’t want to be an ambassador, at least as far as I’ve heard. His parties are better than the ones thrown by the White House any way.

So he can say whatever he wants. But would-be and wanna-be Geffen’s, watch out. There is not likely to be much forgiveness in Hillary Land. Terry MacAuliffe, Bill’s former chief fundraiser and now Hillary’s, had everyone laughing in Los Angeles with his much-repeated comments telling would-be donors that they were only supposed to support Hillary, not spread the wealth; that the goodies would go to those who were there early, not the latecomers; that no one who wasn’t with Hillary now was going to be taken care of later, in the limousine or on the list for plum postings abroad.

It was all a joke, except for the fact that everyone understands it’s true. Norman Lear can give to as many candidates as he wants because Norman Lear doesn’t want or need anything from any of them. That isn’t true of most of the people who participate in politics. They’re in it for a reason, and the reason has to do with what the winner could do – both for the country and for them.

In calling on the Barack Obama camp to disown Geffen, Team Hillary let it be known that they will do whatever they can to drive wedges in this race, between themselves and former friends who desert them and between their opponents and their supporters. The fact that the Obama camp decided to hold on to one of their most important supporters in the country doesn’t necessarily tell you how they will react to a lesser light who causes them this much trouble.

Certainly, the fact that Obama has been criticized more than Hillary for how this has played out, with the political press crowing about how he got dragged into the mud unwittingly and his reputation for running a different kind of campaign got muddied, doesn’t bode well for future defectors expecting protection from their newfound sponsor.

You think you get to be president by playing nice? Sorry. Different business. She meant it when she said she was in to win. As for her opponents, that’s up to them.

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Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was previously Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and was the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System,” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for

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Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission. A woman of firsts, she was the first woman president of the Harvard Law Review and the first woman to head a national presidential campaign (Dukakis). Estrich is committed to paving the way for women to assume positions of leadership. Books by Estrich include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders." Her book "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women," is a departure from her other works, encouraging women to take care of themselves by engaging the mind to fight for a healthy body. Her latest book, The Los Angeles Times bestseller, "Sex & Power," takes an impassioned look at the division of power between men and women in the American workforce, proving that the idea of gender equality is still just an idea.