Hillary Clinton’s Gut Check

For the maybe-presidential candidate, this book tour is a chance to test herself.

LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 10: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers remarks at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries conference on April 10, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Clinton is continuing on a speaking tour this week with the stop at the recycling industry trade conference.
National Journal
Alex Seitz-Wald
June 8, 2014, 6:30 a.m.

Hil­lary Clin­ton’s much an­ti­cip­ated book tour is here, and it’s go­ing to look a lot like a pres­id­en­tial cam­paign.

For a 2016-hungry me­dia, the cam­paign simu­lac­rum will be a chance to look for clues to a po­ten­tial bid. For her le­gions of fans, it’s a chance to see the former sec­ret­ary of State up close and in the flesh. But for Clin­ton her­self, the tour pro­mot­ing Hard Choices will of­fer something more per­son­al: a gut check.

“What she’s go­ing to be ask­ing her­self is, am I hav­ing fun? Am I en­joy­ing this? Do I really want to do this again and po­ten­tially risk los­ing again?” said one former aide.

While Clin­ton is more fa­mil­i­ar than nearly any­one with what it’s like to run a pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, a lot has changed since her last bid eight years ago: She’s older, and the per­son­al costs have nev­er been high­er. Even as she’s clearly lean­ing to­ward a run, it’s a chance for due di­li­gence.

Some of Clin­ton’s most trus­ted ad­visers have re­portedly urged her not give up her charmed life and char­it­able activ­it­ies for a gamble, while her hus­band’s former press sec­ret­ary, Mike Mc­Curry, who re­mains in con­tact with the former first lady, is con­vinced she might not jump in. “She’s go­ing to [shake hands in Iowa and New Hamp­shire] for the next two and a half years at age 65 when she could be do­ing all this great stuff on a glob­al stage?” Mc­Curry said in a re­cent in­ter­view with Real­Clear­Polit­ics.

The book tour — with massive crowds, a sched­ule of 20-plus ap­pear­ances in three weeks, heaps of me­dia scru­tiny, and a Ready for Hil­lary bus plastered with her name on it — will give Clin­ton a fresh taste of life on the trail, and help her team hone her mes­sage and op­er­a­tions.

Even if Clin­ton’s book tour is more com­mer­cial than polit­ic­al — she’s steer­ing clear of polit­ic­ally im­port­ant states and mak­ing two stops in Canada — the ex­per­i­ence will be in­form­at­ive, said Joe Trippi, who man­aged Howard Dean’s pres­id­en­tial cam­paign.

“She’s go­ing to have the abil­ity to test the wa­ters, without hav­ing to ac­tu­ally run,” Trippi said. “She’s go­ing to get asked all the ques­tions. It really is go­ing to give her a good idea of what’s com­ing.”

When Clin­ton entered the race for Sen­ate in 1999, she em­barked on a “listen­ing tour” across New York that helped in­form her run. “The book tour will give her an op­por­tun­ity to get to a lot of places that she hasn’t been in a while,” an­oth­er former staffer said. “That en­er­gizes her, re­con­nects her, and helps hone her mes­sage.”

Clin­ton’s 10-city book tour sup­port­ing It Takes a Vil­lage in early 1996 helped set up her hus­band’s reelec­tion cam­paign, and in her 2003 mem­oir, Liv­ing His­tory, she writes about cher­ish­ing the ex­per­i­ence.

Dur­ing a month when the Clin­ton White House was un­der in­tense scru­tiny from in­vest­ig­at­ors, the “only bright mo­ments” came while pro­mot­ing the book. “The crowds were huge and the audi­ences were warm and sup­port­ive, fur­ther evid­ence of the dis­con­nect between Wash­ing­ton and the rest of the na­tion,” she wrote in Liv­ing His­tory.

But she also writes about pres­id­en­tial cam­paigns as long, gruel­ing af­fairs un­der­cut by “lies and ma­nip­u­la­tion.” “Des­pite all the good ad­vice we had re­ceived and all the time Bill and I had spent in the polit­ic­al arena, we were un­pre­pared for the hard­ball polit­ics and re­lent­less scru­tiny that comes with a run for the pres­id­ency,” she wrote of the 1992 cam­paign.

The same could be said of her own cam­paign in 2008. But Chris Le­Hane, a vet­er­an of the Bill Clin­ton White House, said the early tim­ing of the book re­lease, which al­lows her set her nar­rat­ive be­fore any­one can, and its well-or­ches­trated roll out, shows she’s bet­ter pre­pared. “It cer­tainly sug­gests that she has taken the les­sons of 2008 and ap­plied them,” he said.

Book tours have long been prov­ing grounds for pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates. For Barack Obama, the throng of young people lin­ing up to see him — and in some cases camp­ing overnight on the streets — helped con­vince him to take the plunge.

For Colin Pow­ell, a tour sup­port­ing his much an­ti­cip­ated 1995 book both pushed him to ser­i­ously con­sider a run and even­tu­ally helped him choose to aban­don it. Bill Smul­len, a long­time aide who ac­com­pan­ied Pow­ell on the tour, said they were “over­whelmed” by the at­ten­tion and en­cour­age­ment the former chair­man of the Joint Chiefs re­ceived. The out­pour­ing made him ser­i­ously con­sider run­ning, but after two weeks mulling it over, Pow­ell de­cided he didn’t have the “fire in the belly” to do what was ne­ces­sary to run, Smul­len said.

When he re­leased his book No Apo­logy in 2010, Mitt Rom­ney, like Clin­ton, had run and lost once be­fore and was con­sid­er­ing an­oth­er run. “We were very con­scious of the fact that this was go­ing to be a pro­ject that would of course have an im­pact on his con­sid­er­a­tion on run­ning,” said Rom­ney aide Kev­in Mad­den. But mostly, Mad­den said, the book was an op­por­tun­ity for the former gov­ernor to pro­mote his policy vis­ion for the coun­try.

And it will likely be the same for Clin­ton, whose book is ex­pec­ted to weave her per­son­al ex­per­i­ences as sec­ret­ary of State in with some policy pre­scrip­tions.

In any case, Bob Shrum, who worked on the cam­paigns of both Al Gore and John Kerry, says Clin­ton thrives in pub­lic set­tings like a book tour. “She’s an in­stinct­ive pub­lic per­son­al­ity,” he said. “I don’t see this as a tri­al run, I see this as the first phase of the cam­paign.”

What We're Following See More »
Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
2 days ago

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
2 days ago

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
2 days ago

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.
CNN Calls the Primary for Sanders and Trump
1 days ago

Well that didn’t take long. CNN has already declared Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump the winners of the New Hampshire primary, leaving the rest of the candidates to fight for the scraps. Five minutes later, the Associated Press echoed CNN’s call.