If Clinton Wins, It's Payback Time!

I'm beginning to think Hillary Clinton might pull this off and wrestle the nomination away from Barack Obama. If she does, a lot of folks—including a huge chunk of the media—will join Bill Richardson (a.k.a. Judas) in the Deep Freeze. If the Clintons get back into the White House, it will be retribution time, like the Corleone family consolidating power in "The Godfather," where the watchword is, "It's business, not personal."

Not that anyone will be sleeping with the fishes with Hillary in the White House, but with the Clintons it's business and it's personal. Just think of all the scores to settle, the grievances to indulge. Bill Clinton provided a preview this week, blaming the Obama campaign for playing the race card against him. Tricky maneuver, but perhaps the only way the former president can come to grips with his loss of standing in the African-American community, once his strongest constituency. (South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, an undeclared superdelegate who is African-American, told the New York Times this week that the black community had supported Clinton during his impeachment and that "I think black folks feel strongly that this is a strange way [for him] to show his appreciation.")

There's never been any love lost between the Clintons and official Washington. The Georgetown dinner parties they rarely attended during the Bill years might as well be in Outer Mongolia for all President Hillary will care. Notables who abandoned her for Obama will get the Big Chill. "He's dead to us," a Clinton aide was quoted saying of John Kerry, who along with Ted Kennedy was turned off by the perception of race baiting that led up to the South Carolina primary. A major donor, conflicted between the two candidates and apologetic over his backing of Obama, found Hillary less than sympathetic. "Too bad for you, because I'm going to win," she snapped.

During the 1992 campaign the pundits wrote off Bill Clinton, certain he couldn't survive allegations of infidelity and draft dodging. Aides strung together (with a background of Frank Sinatra singing "They All Laughed") declarations by many of the biggest names in journalism that Clinton was toast and would never be elected president. Hillary's people could do a miniseries on this campaign documenting her multiple comebacks and the egg on the media's face. When the polls closed in Pennsylvania and the race was for a short while too close to call, you could see the barely restrained glee among the commentators that perhaps the moment had finally arrived: Hillary might be gone!

Hillary lost the media a long time ago through a combination of arrogance and entitlement, but she has won grudging respect in some unlikely quarters. Conservative commentators Pat Buchanan and Joe Scarborough are openly rooting for her, and Tony Blankley, who first gained notoriety as Newt Gingrich's spokesman, confessed somewhat sheepishly, "She's almost beginning to appeal to me." This is a stunning development given Blankley's long and storied history as a Hillary hater. He was recognized in the Washington Post Style section in the early 1990s as the first to call Hillary "Evita," after Argentina's Eva Peron, an ambitious, strong-willed woman who used her husband's position to gain power. The turning point for Blankley was that moment in Pennsylvania when Hillary downed a shot of Crown Royal whiskey "like she'd done it before," says Blankley. "The way she threw it down, she didn't sip it. I know something about that. I've done it myself," he chuckles.

The debonair, British-born Blankley comes from the elbows-out school of politics popularized by Gingrich when the Republicans took over the House of Representatives just two years into the Clinton presidency. He admires the way Hillary has grown as a political commodity, convinced she has changed for the better, no longer a snooty Wellesley grad who's all into policy. Now she's like an old pol, mixing it up and enjoying the blood sport, laughing while she rips into Obama. She'll never get Blankley's vote, but she's won his admiration for her tenacity and the way she relishes the fight, unlike Obama, who dances away from confrontation, not wanting to damage his brand as the great healer. "Too much Fred Astaire," MSNBC's Chris Matthews huffed the other night.

Now the burden is on Obama to win the next round of primaries on May 6. He has said publicly that Indiana could be the tiebreaker, a prediction he could come to regret. If Clinton can win Indiana, hold Obama to single digits in North Carolina, and then run up a big margin in Kentucky on May 20, where she's leading in the polls, she could overtake Obama in the popular vote. "We have to win big and lose small," says an aide. Obama may yet discover his inner Rocky and recast himself now that the media is turning on him. It's hard to be the next new thing for 15 months, which is how long he's been running. And it's time enough for Hillary to win ugly, if that's what winning takes.