LOS ANGELES – I’ve got a great idea.
Let’s pile on Hillary.
Let’s jump all over her, claim she stumbled horribly at the debate, that her chances of winning have taken a huge hit, that she’s whining like a girl about it.
Newt’s in: He says Hillary’s chances of winning the nomination have dropped from 80 percent to 50 percent, or something like that, even though no poll supports him on that.
Obama’s in: He’s all over the place intimating that Hillary should stop behaving like a little girl, that he didn’t complain when everybody jumped all over him (I don’t remember, when was that?) or say they did it because he was black.
The press is in big time. Every Russert-hater in the world is quoting verbatim the negative comments made about the moderator who, under normal circumstances, is about as popular with his fellow pundits as Attila the Hun. And I say this as someone who likes him, who isn’t part of the Huffington Blog Hates Russert contingent, who doesn’t lose to him every Sunday morning and blame him for the deficit.
But, so what? It’s November, the first contests are only about eight weeks off, the World Series is over-- and Hillary has been running as close to a flawless campaign as anyone has seen in recent years, while Obama keeps struggling for a second act, John Edwards is just plain struggling, and the rest of the field is heading nowhere slowly.
If you don’t stop her now, you know what happens.... After all that planning, all that primping-- all that is invested by players and pundits in having a nice, vicious, drawn-out primary season, where we go from state to state staying in overpriced awful hotels eating and drinking too much, telling people what they’re thinking even before they think it-- could come to naught.
I mean, if Hillary wins early, the press might not even make it to Beverly Hills. How do you spell disaster? How do you spell irrelevant? Imagine all those great logos going to waste.
It had to happen. No one cruises. If there aren’t bumps, they have to be created.
Reality check: Did you even know there was a debate Tuesday night? Did you watch? Of course not. If you heard that Hillary was awful, do you have any idea why? Not likely.
In fact, the polls, unlike the pundits, show that so far, Hillary’s support has actually increased somewhat, at least nationally, since the chattering class started piling on on Tuesday night.
That may not continue -- after all, if you keeping hearing someone is in trouble, even if you don’t know why, eventually you might believe that she is. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, even if it’s blue smoke.
But I wouldn’t count on it, at least not in Hillary’s case.
First of all, it helps to have something to back it up. Something real. Did Hillary actually make a mistake on Tuesday night on something that will distinguish her in the future from Obama, that gives Obama an advantage over her in appealing to voters? Actually not.
The stumble was on immigration, an issue any wise politician would stumble on, before tip toeing over the land mine that divides what’s right, in terms of dealing with the issue, and what’s acceptable, in terms of the public debate.
Second, you need a constituency. Besides the press, exactly who is it that Hillary offended, deserted, let down, or otherwise did in by her performance? Other than the Russert fan club, is there anyone who was deeply troubled, double-crossed, or otherwise humiliated by her decision to step aside from the game of gotcha and try to avoid being caught for the sake of being caught, which, if you didn’t catch it, was the subtext for Tuesday night?
But the most important thing is that the guys ganging up look worse than the woman they’re ganging up on. Gotcha is not pretty to watch, and it’s a game candidates themselves should never play.
Obama wins nothing by trying to make himself out to be the real man, and Hillary the wimp. Edwards doesn’t win credibility by proving he doesn’t have any. A crowd of has-beens and yet-to-be’s, woulda, coulda and shoulda’s, are not going to knock the queen off her horse.
It isn’t easy being a woman in a man’s world. But it isn’t pretty watching the guys gang up on the woman who is. As my friend Stepahanie Miller, the talk show host and openly Obama girl, puts it, she never likes Hillary as much as she does when the guys are ganging up on her. Hillary had a "women problem" with New York voters in her first Senate contest until the guys started beating up on her. Women may not automatically support the woman in the race, but just wait until the men start beating up on her.
Hillary’s isn’t under attack because she’s a woman. She’s under attack because she’s ahead. It’s because she’s wearing the pants in this race, not because she’s wearing a skirt. But every time a man claims that she’s trying to play the gender card, and has no right to, he plays it for her.
Every time you catch that twinkle in the eye that so many of us recognize from all the times that guys have gloated over the failure of first women, you’ll see more women moving to her side. If there were a real mistake, it might cost her. But guys playing gotcha are not going to sink the first woman likely to be president. Not even close. Hillary’s going to come out of this just fine. Better than fine.
As for the men playing gotcha, I’m not so sure.
Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and 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 FOXNews.com.