Hillary Clinton book tour could serve as dry run for a campaign

Hillary Rodham Clinton begins a minutely orchestrated book tour this week for her memoir "Hard Choices."
(Brendan Smialowski / AFP-Getty Images)

She’s traveled the country mixing weighty policy pronouncements with joking references to her hair. She’s reflected on gender bias and offered career advice to young women, gushed about becoming a grandma and raked in a fortune in speaking fees on the lecture circuit.

After all that — and even having a shoe flung at her at a trash collectors’ convention in Las Vegas — Hillary Rodham Clinton takes her flirtation with the 2016 presidential race to a new level this week, beginning a minutely orchestrated book tour that will whisk her coast to coast for a mix of book signings and carefully calibrated television interviews.

Since stepping down as secretary of State 16 months ago, Clinton has managed to effectively freeze out any Democratic competition for the presidential nomination, no small feat in a party with a history of upstarts and upsets — especially for someone who has yet to say whether she even plans to run.


Throughout, she’s weathered a relentless degree of scrutiny, her daily travels exhaustively chronicled, her every utterance parsed for meaning. Even matters like her daughter Chelsea’s pregnancy are put to the will-or-won’t-she test.

“She’s got the toughest job in American politics” being the prohibitive front-runner, said Stuart Spencer, a longtime Republican strategist who helped shepherd former California Gov. Ronald Reagan in a years-long trek from Sacramento to the White House. “And she’s managed it just about as well as you can.”

Clinton’s months-long book tour, combined with other stops, appears unprecedented in the annals of both publishing and politics, bearing many of the trappings of a full-fledged presidential campaign. A strike team, to push back Clinton critics, has been stocked with family loyalists and others practiced in aggressive political communication. (Conservatives have set up a counter-operation to offer their interpretation of events recounted in Clinton’s 600-plus-page memoir, “Hard Choices.” An e-book, “Failed Choices,” is being released to coincide with her travels.)

A busload of Clinton supporters, chartered by a friendly political action committee, will follow the non-candidate to events and seek to sign up new acolytes; one of her first book signings is scheduled for a Costco in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, the battleground portion of a battleground state. A Los Angeles stop is scheduled for June 19 at the Grove shopping center.

Her TV appearances, including a visit with the cheery crew on “Good Morning America” and a grilling on the less-amiable Fox News Channel, will allow Clinton a chance to spotlight two sides of her persona, warmth and toughness, in the same manner as the sneak previews doled out by her publisher: a gauzy Mother’s Day tribute for Vogue magazine and her telling of the 2012 attack on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, for Politico.

“It seems to me that the rollout of Hillary’s book has been letter-perfect,” Paul Begala, a campaign strategist who served in the White House under President Clinton and remains close to the family, said in an email. “Rather than wait for the inevitable leaks, Team Hillary has released select excerpts, both to satisfy the press and to build anticipation for the book’s release.”

Some suggest that it seems a bit too perfect.

If the knock on Clinton is that she is overly political and calculating — a reputation that contributed to her defeat in the 2008 presidential campaign — the martial precision of her book rollout may do little to allay that criticism.

“The best value a politician can convey today is some sense of authenticity. Especially for her,” said Matthew Dowd, who managed George W. Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign but is now a political independent. He suggested that since leaving the Obama administration in February 2013, Clinton has essentially served up more of the same image that voters saw in her last White House bid, albeit with an overlay of foreign policy expertise that she lacked eight years ago.

“It would be different if she was saying things and people went, ‘Hmm, that’s interesting,’” Dowd said. “It doesn’t seem like she’s adding anything new to her story. She seems to keep repeating the old framework.”

Aides to Clinton declined to discuss the objectives of her book rollout, or how the nationwide tour might tie into her decision on making another White House run. Advisors have said she is likely to make up her mind by the end of the year, though a public announcement could be delayed until early 2015.

Clinton, who has developed a well-rehearsed repertoire of answers to the persistent questions about her future, told People magazine that in addition to mulling a run for president, she has been thinking about “everything I’m interested in and everything I enjoy doing.”

“With the extra added joy of ‘I’m about to become a grandmother,’ I want to live in the moment,” she said in the interview published last week. “At the same time I am concerned about what I see happening in the country and the world.”

It hasn’t all been politics and speeches and philanthropic work with the family Clinton Foundation, she said.

The former first lady and New York senator described the “very calming” process recently of cleaning out her closets, taking long walks, practicing water aerobics and yoga, and binge-watching the Netflix drama “House of Cards” with her husband.

In addition, she addressed the reemergence of Monica Lewinsky, who recently wrote a Vanity Fair essay about her affair with then-President Clinton. The former first lady said she had moved on and suggested others do so as well.

And Clinton said her health was just fine, batting down suggestions by Republicans that a December 2012 concussion was more serious than she has let on. “Some effects in the aftermath of it, mostly dizziness, double vision ... all dissipated,” Clinton said.

Implicitly, the book tour and flurry of public appearances will also be a way for Clinton, 66, to demonstrate her stamina and well-being, even as she puts the optimal gloss on her tenure as secretary of State.

Whether she runs for president or not, the next several months could serve as something of a dry run and a way to gently inch back into the political arena.

“She hasn’t had to convince people of anything,” said Jennifer Lawless, who directs the Women & Politics Institute at Washington’s American University. “She’s been operating in very elite circles for the last six and a half years. This is a way for her to dip her toe back into campaign waters in a really hospitable way.”

If nothing else, Clinton will sell a lot of books: Her publisher, Simon & Schuster, said the initial printing of 1 million copies had already sold out.