Hillary's Book Tour: A 2016 Gut Check

The rollout of Hard Choices is widely being interpreted as a prelude to a presidential run, but it might really be a trial run to see how voters would react on the trail.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

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.

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Alex Seitz-Wald is a reporter for National Journal

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