Ezra Klein has an interesting take on Hillary Clinton’s several recent gaffe-ish incidents, from her on-air tussle with Terry Gross to her tone-deaf attempts to portray her and Bill as just regular middle class folks. He thinks they’re all happening by design, or rather that Clinton’s book tour has been designed to let her get the gaffes out now so that she’ll learn from them in time to run a smooth campaign for president in 2016. She’s on a trial run for her real public roll out, I guess:
In a smart piece for Buzzfeed, Katherine Miller observed that Clinton’s grueling book tour wasn’t necessary. She’s Hillary Clinton, after all. She doesn’t need to do so many events in so many different states to sell books. “It’s insane, like the media version of an Iron Man race for one of the most recognizable people alive.”
But perhaps it’s not really a book tour at all. What Clinton has really done, Miller says, is “artificially create the conditions of a presidential run.” She’s figuring out the new media landscape, testing her connection with young voters, and learning whether her messages work. She’s seeing how she’ll be attacked and discovering which of her rebuttals rally support. She’s finding out that if you end up fighting Terry Gross you have probably made some bad decisions in your life.
This makes a lot of sense, but it does make you wonder just how many trial runs Hillary Clinton needs before she can run a decent presidential campaign. On the one hand, Hillary Clinton’s high public profile tends to obscure the fact that she’s still a fairly novice campaigner in her own right. She’d never stood for elected office before 2000, and only had the one reelection campaign in 2006, running against a joke challenger in a massive Democratic wave election, before she ran for president in 2008, lost, and then was tapped as Obama’s Secretary of State. She hasn’t had the chance to work out kinks in races for local or state office, or even the House, the way a more typical candidate would have done.
On the other hand, Hillary Clinton has spent parts of four decades in and around electoral politics. She was active as First Lady of Arkansas, active as First Lady of the United States, and campaigned actively for Bill Clinton when he ran for both offices. So she’s had a lot of exposure to the craft of running campaigns, regardless of whether or not her name was the one on the ballot. And yet, when she ran for president in 2008, in a primary she was considered a near-lock to win, her campaign was an absolute train wreck. Yes she paid heavily for her Iraq War vote, but she also paid heavily for running a campaign team who didn’t think caucuses mattered, who acted like they’d never heard of this strange new thing called “the internet,” who wasted the biggest campaign war chest of any of the Democratic contenders, and who failed to tailor their message to respond to the actual dynamics of the race. It wouldn’t seem like you’d need to practice running for president before you could learn about these fairly basic elements of a presidential campaign, would it? I mean, most candidates who get elected president for the first time do so without having any previous direct experience running for president.
Now here we are in the run up to 2016, and Hillary Clinton is doing a dry run for the campaign via her book tour, so this makes one actual run for president and one dry run, which is a lot more practice than most candidates get, but she’s still struggling with basic stuff. I realize been 8 years since her last campaign, and the concerns of the Democratic electorate have changed somewhat in that time, so it’s helpful to be able to road-test some different messages and see what plays. But Hillary Clinton hasn’t been in a cave for the last 8 years, so it shouldn’t take a whole manufactured book tour/backdoor dress rehearsal for her to realize that, for example, it’s kind of insulting when extravagantly wealthy people pretend to be just folks. If she hasn’t already learned that kind of thing, what reason is there to believe that she’ll learn it now?