Susan Estrich: Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

Coulda, woulda, shoulda....

Those are among the most famous words in politics, words you’ll be hearing a lot of on Tuesday night, if Hillary Clinton doesn’t win in Ohio and Texas’ must-win primaries.

The problem in politics is when you build a firewall, you get burned if it crumbles. Hillary has declared those two states her firewall. She had to, frankly, in order to get a pass on all the contests between Super Tuesday and now.

It’s kept her in the race. Now it will determine her fate.

IF she wins, even if she wins narrowly, she’ll be en route to Pennsylvania. If she loses, even the best spinners will get dizzy trying to argue that it isn’t fatal.

And that’s when all the “coulda, woulda, shoulda’s” will be heard.

All the folks who will go on television filling the air with their versions of what Hillary did wrong, why she and her people made the wrong choices, emphasized the wrong themes, ran bad ads, didn’t use the internet right, didn’t position herself as the candidate of “change,” over or underplayed the gender card, wasn’t human enough, or was too human.

When you win, you’re a genius. When you lose, you’re a fool.

In Hillary’s case, if she loses, we’ll be treated to endless descriptions of Hillaryland as a house of fools.


In politics, as in life, you play the hand you’re dealt. You can play it shrewdly, play it smartly, play it with finesse, but the hand is the hand. In politics, as in life, timing is everything, and sometimes, no matter what you do, it’s not your time.

For all those who say Hillary should have been the candidate of change instead of the voice of experience, the force for unity instead of a symbol of division, the face of the future instead of a reminder of the past, I have only one answer: Get real.

If she’d tried any of those gambits, she would have gotten killed for being a calculating phoney, a fake and a fraud.

Her name is Hillary Rodham Clinton. She is, and was, probably the best known woman in the world. Her husband is who he is.

She wasn’t going to distance herself from the Clinton years and get away with it. She couldn’t pretend she hadn’t spent eight years living in the White House with the man who dominated American politics for the last decade of the twentieth century.

She is running on experience because that’s what she has. You don’t want it, you aren’t going to want her. She is running on the accomplishments of the Clinton Administration because she was an integral part of it. You didn’t like it, you aren’t going to like her.

She is running as an insider who knows how to make Washington work because that is what she is and what she knows. She has earned the support of lots of big donors and party leaders because they know her and she knows them, and to pretend that she can play this game as a fresh-faced newcomer is to replace her well-established strengths with a picture that doesn’t ring true.

Before the campaign, there was plenty of talk about how she was too dull and stiff and cold to be a successful candidate. Like her or not, I don’t think you could describe the Hillary Clinton who has been out there campaigning for the last year as any of those things.

From what I’ve seen, she’s been disciplined, but also warm, charming, attentive and empathetic. She’s also looked very good on the stump, and maintained her spirit and optimism in tough times.

By my count, she’s only made one real mistake in all the hundreds (or so it seems) of debates and major appearances, and that was on the issue of drivers licenses for illegal immigrants, where she was for it before she was against it.

For all the second-guessing her husband will be the object of, I only count one real mistake for him, and that was the Jesse Jackson comparison with Obama, which many people (although I’m not sure that would include Jesse himself) thought was unfair to Barack.

But if you’re counting mistakes, Barack has also made a few, including his comments about nobody suffering more than the Palestinian people, and leaving Israel off the list of America’s top three allies, and agreeing to meet with the world’s worst bad guys without preconditions, not to mention the fact that he got caught up on the drivers’ license issue the week after Hillary did.

The point is, everyone I’ve ever worked for or followed who runs for President (or just tries to get through the day) makes mistakes, and Hillary’s have certainly been fewer than most.

Maybe this isn’t the year for a Clinton. Maybe this isn’t the year for a woman. Maybe the appeal of change and youth and eloquence of a different order is indeed the order of the day. I haven’t given up on Hillary yet; I learned that lesson in New Hamphsire, when I wrote a column assuming she’d lost only to have to toss it when she won. But whatever happens on Tuesday, you won’t hear me doing the “coulda, shoulda, woulda” routine.

Hillary has played her hand with skill, style, and class. She’s been a candidate you could be proud to support. Whether that will be enough to carry the day in Texas and Ohio, I just don’t know. But she’s walked the walk, and talked the talk, as well as anyone in her situation could, and most of those who say otherwise, in my experience, are people who in their own lives have never done either.

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