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Susan Estrich: Is it possible that Hillary Clinton could actually lose?

Susan Estrich: Is it possible that Hillary Clinton could actually lose?

Acknowledging that the former Secretary of State is not made entirely of Teflon

The chattering class, fed by the drumbeat of conservatives and the criticism of look-alike Republicans, is actually acknowledging that the former Secretary of State is not made entirely of Teflon.

Some of her support is soft. Some Democrats don’t like her. Never have.

Inevitability is generally a curse in politics. “Is he inevitable?” It was once asked of Walter Mondale, who proceeded to lose New Hampshire to Gary Hart. We used to joke that an appearance on the cover of Time, which meant a lot more when there were less media, was almost always followed by some terrible scandal or setback. Bill Clinton graced the cover of Time and it was no time at all before Gennifer Flowers did the same with the tabloids.

The problem with being inevitable is that all you can really do is lose; if you win, you’ve merely met expectations. And if expectations are too high, even a win can be a loss: most people (who remember at all) think Lyndon Johnson withdrew from the race for re-election because he was defeated by Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 New Hampshire primary. But he wasn’t. Johnson actually “won,” but since primaries are all about expectations, his failure to trounce an unelectable opponent was seen as a fatal sign of weakness.

Could Bernie Sanders do the same to Clinton in New Hampshire?

Sure. It’s possible. It is not always possible to win, but it is always possible to lose.

Still, if you could be in anyone’s shoes right now, for purposes of this contest, you’d have to pick Clinton’s sensible pumps. Qualifications. Money. Experience. Political skill. Whatever you think matters most, she’s got plenty of it. Along with the baggage, of course.

Hillary Clinton is not going to win 100 percent of the Democratic vote, and no one should expect her to. There are some Democrats who think she’s not liberal enough, and others who want to make sure she doesn’t move too far toward the right.

And yes, there are some folks who just aren’t ready to vote for a woman for president, even a woman with more foreign policy experience than any man in the race, even a woman long criticized for being too “tough” in a world where women lose for not being tough enough. When I looked at the numbers eight years ago, even I was shocked to see polls showing that 1 in 5 Americans would hesitate before voting for a qualified woman for president. One in 5? How could that be? Easy. Go count the number of women running Fortune 500 companies. A record-breaking 24! And of course, 476 men.

When it comes to executive positions, unconscious sexism runs deep. You see it in corporate hierarchies, where even high-ranking women are more likely to be concentrated in staff rather than line positions, even though it is those line positions that lead to the top. You see it in political institutions, where women are more likely to be elected to legislative rather than executive positions. Two strong women vied for mayoral seats in New York and Los Angeles and both lost. Dianne Feinstein has long been among the most popular politicians in California, but she lost in her race for governor, and California is one of a long list of states to never elect a woman to be the boss.

“Does Clinton have to campaign?” someone asked me. Yup. She’s going to have to campaign at least as hard as the hardest-working man in the race. That is how it has always worked for women, and certainly for women seeking power. But my father’s old adage still holds true: you can’t beat a horse with no horse.

Right now, whatever her flaws, no one comes close.

Susan Estrich is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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