You’d think a book by a celebrity candidate with an automatic readership of several millions would be a boon to the author’s presidential prospects, but in the case of Hillary Clinton, it’s going to open up a really big can of worms.
Reports suggest that her new book will defend her “smart power” and the Obama foreign policy more generally while defending the United States as the indispensable nation. Her book release and tour contain a number of risks for the former secretary of state.
For starters, 18 months before the first primary, the GOP can begin to attack Clinton’s record, fact-check her claims and shape voters’ image of her. The more she chooses to defend herself, the more she exposes herself to the media and gets pinned down on remarks that may come back to bite her. The book and everything she says about it will be analyzed and deployed by Republicans while their candidates haven’t even declared they are running. The media have no Republican front-runner to focus upon. It is Hillary Clinton, no distractions and no opponent.
Second, she risks provoking the left, which never quite accepts her as one of its own. The left that dinged her in 2008 for her initial support for the Iraq war isn’t going to like hearing that the United States is indispensable. The liberal base won’t be impressed if she says she advocated for intervention in Syria. Again, because this comes so early, a left-wing standard bearer could have time to generate some buzz.
Third, let’s get real: Much of what Clinton tried failed (Russian reset, the “peace process”), and her inability to anticipate and devise policy responses to significant developments, including the influx of jihadis into Libya and the Arab Spring, do not speak well of her vision. She can try to spin it all with lots of fluff, but in the end, the failed policies are the reality, and the justifications are just words. And this reveals one habit that is especially vulnerable to GOP attacks. She talks incessantly about inputs — numbers of meetings, travels, conferences — which, in the end, don’t matter. It is results on which she should and will be judged. Emphasizing how much she used up her time in ultimately fruitless discussions is an odd campaign strategy.
Fourth, she runs a huge risk endorsing the Obama foreign policy and thereby setting herself up as the candidate for the third Obama term. The most recent Associated Press poll suggests just how unpopular Obama and his policies are. Only 28 percent of voters approve of Obamacare, while 43 percent disapprove. A remarkable 59 percent disapprove of his handling of the economy. Overall, his approval is underwater, with 43 percent approving and 56 disapproving of his performance. By the same token, Clinton’s efforts to distance herself from him will certainly irritate the president’s most loyal left-wing base.
Finally, whatever she says about Benghazi, Libya, is going to be fodder for the House select committee. If she testifies and contradicts her book or public comments, it is a problem; if other evidence does, it is a problem. Moreover, Benghazi is ultimately an executive screw-up — the secretary of state didn’t understand the big picture (jihadis in Libya, Americans threatened), didn’t have her department set up to flag critical developments, didn’t allow herself to be interviewed and held accountable by the accountability board and didn’t fire anyone. Given the scandal-ridden Obama administration and newfound focus on executive competence, this is not a good subject for her.
Clinton is not likely to be bludgeoned by the media, although a series of softball interviews will not do well for the MSM’s already battered image. She can evade and filibuster with the best of them. But the danger is that voters see through this and recognize her as another slippery politician, not a competent leader. Simply put, she doesn’t have her husband’s rhetorical skill or charm, and it’s going to hurt, beginning with her first interview.