For Sen. Bernie Sanders, along with surprise hit of the summer season Donald Trump, some people are really beginning to ask: could it happen?
Could Bernie Sanders win Iowa? He could. Mike Huckabee, who had launched his campaign on a weight-loss platform (I was a fan), won Iowa, and everyone spent the whole night figuring out how much it would hurt Romney (answer: a lot) and help McCain (ditto).
Could Bernie Sanders win New Hampshire? I guess he could. Indeed, he could do well enough that even in losing, he embarrasses Hillary Clinton, or worse. Those of us old enough (in my case, barely, of course) will remember that Eugene McCarthy lost the New Hampshire primary to the incumbent President Lyndon Johnson, but his showing was strong enough that Johnson pulled out of the race.
But at that point Eugene McCarthy did not become the favorite for the nomination. Far from it. He was an unwilling and unwitting stalking horse. When Johnson bowed out, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and Vice President Hubert Humphrey jumped in. The fight for the nomination ended with a shot fired at Kennedy in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel on his way to claim victory in the California primary.
No one knows what might have happened in a different 1968 matchup but we know exactly what happened in the actual one: Hubert Humphrey, like Eugene McCarthy, did not become president. Richard Nixon, the former Vice President, did.
I don't know any political hacks (other than those on the payroll) who think it likely that the Democrats will nominate an independent Senator from Vermont who will be a much tougher sell in a general election than in the early contests, which are always dominated by activists. The harder question that people are asking is: what does this say about Hillary Clinton? How could it be that the first woman to stand a real chance of becoming president is neck-and-neck with Bernie Sanders? What does it say that so many Democrats — Democrats of the activist persuasion — would be against Clinton? Are they really voting for Bernie Sanders or is it instead a vote against Clinton?
Clinton has not had a great month. The old rule for handling a crisis like the e-mail server one was to put all the information, every last scrap of it that you could, including every classified e-mail and state department document, out at once. Total transparency. In this scenario, Clinton would stand up and take responsibility, say that given her past she had concerns about privacy but that she should never have allowed any business to be done on her home server; that she tried her best to ensure that no classified information was ever on the server and is troubled to learn that there are however many incidents in which she was sent classified material. Then she would let the press ask whatever they want, and then it's out, it's over, you've done what people want, which is to take responsibility and own up to your mistakes, and it's over. That's the old rule. Think, if you are old enough, of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984.
The exception, of course, is when the admission — if it came in the heat of the moment — would create a wave of momentum that would push you out of the race or out of office, so you have to stonewall and hope the other side overreaches and people get tired of the story. Think Monica Lewinsky.
I just don't think there's a smoking gun hiding in the e-mails. If there is, there won't be a nomination; winning an office is harder than not losing it, and the only question will be: who jumps in? The Democratic race could get as crowded as the Republican race in no time. But I just don't see it. I fear that Clinton really doesn't think she did anything wrong, and resents the politicization of her privacy by Republicans who will use anything against her, all of which is true (even paranoid people have real enemies). But it's the least attractive memory of the Clinton years, and not one to call up. This is not a "right-wing conspiracy" so much as it is a self-inflicted wound that it is not too late to treat and heal.
(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)