Hillary Clinton book tour: Tougher than she expected?

In promoting her book, Hillary Clinton made headlines for saying she and her husband were 'dead broke' in the early 2000s. A bumpy conversation about her switch to support of gay marriage hasn't helped, either.

Richard Drew/AP
Hillary Clinton participates in a conversation about her career in government and her new book, 'Hard Choices,' at the Council on Foreign Relations, in New York, Thursday, June 12, 2014.

Has Hillary Rodham Clinton’s book tour been a little bumpier than she and her advisers expected? That’s what some pundits are saying as the “Hard Choices” tour nears the end of its first week.

“It’s been a mediocre rollout at best,” opines the “First Read” crew at NBC – Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Carrie Dann.

The reasoning here runs like this: Generally speaking, the national news media have focused on perceived gaffes in Clinton interview comments as opposed to the book’s content. That began with the ex-secretary of State’s comment about being “dead broke” when leaving the White House. It continued through surprisingly contentious interviews with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, who pressed Ms. Clinton on Benghazi; and NPR’s Terry Gross, who probed Clinton’s switch to support of gay marriage.

Clinton said it was “flat wrong” to believe she and her husband had flip-flopped on that latter issue for political reasons. But many Democratic voters may have forgotten, or never knew, that Clinton used to be against same-sex marriage, points out Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic.

“If I were a Clinton primary opponent I’d see that as an exploitable weakness,” Mr. Friedersdorf writes.

In general, Clinton has just come across as a calculating politician, according to the NBC’s Mr. Todd et al.  And that’s what doomed her in 2008 against an opponent – Barack Obama – who was faster on his verbal feet and seemed more authentic to Democratic voters.

OK, we’ll agree that the book tour has not been the smooth pre-campaign brand-building exercise that Clintonland may have hoped for. The media are a rough beast, and it’s been more unruly than they probably predicted.

But House majority leader Eric Cantor’s shocking loss in his Virginia Seventh District GOP primary has sent much of the political press whooping off in another direction. Now Iraq is falling apart – so it’s not like the “Hard Choices” tour is getting lots of puff coverage in a slow news week.

A new poll shows Clinton’s popularity has dropped a bit. The Bloomberg survey finds 52 percent of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of Clinton, down from 56 percent in March and 70 percent in December 2012.

But sometimes a book tour is about, you know, selling books. And Clinton’s doing well at that, according to preliminary indications. “Hard Choices” is No. 3 on Amazon’s bestseller list, behind a diet book and the young-adult novel “The Fault in Our Stars.” (Why is that last one the fastest-selling book in the United States? You must not have a teen in the house. Look at the movie listings.)

Secondarily, the tour is about breaking in the campaign bus. It’s a test drive, a way to see where Clinton’s weaknesses and strengths are and get her reacquainted with the frustrations of running for office. There is probably a Clintonland working group preparing a preliminary memo on how to handle gay marriage questions, right now.

And her numbers? If you look at the HuffPost Pollster average of major surveys, her polls have actually improved over the course of the year. In December, she was around a 50 percent favorable rating. At the beginning of June, that had climbed to about 53 percent.

True, she won’t get back to those lofty days when she had a 70 percent approval rating as secretary of State. That’s because she’s reentered the partisan fray. It’s our opinion that she is running for president right now. She might stop for some reason, but that would be a course reversal. Right now, she is on a track that leads directly to a podium and an official candidacy announcement sometime in 2015.

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