Hillary Clinton speaks at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Monday. (Matthew Staver/Bloomberg News)

Before you completely check out for the epic battle that will be United States v. Belgium, let me just go on record as seconding Eugene Robinson’s column today about Hillary Clinton. Nope, no one should count her out. If (when?) the former secretary of state, former senator from New York, former first lady of the United States, former first lady of Arkansas jumps into the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, she’ll be ready. That’s because she working out the kinks, rhetorically and operationally, now.

Think about it. Clinton is going around the country promoting her book. You know the name, so I’m not going to repeat it. From an operational viewpoint, this gives her staff members time to learn or reacquaint themselves with the crushing rigor of a national campaign. But the real benefit can best be seen from a rhetorical standpoint. To be certain, Clinton made mistakes in her rollout interviews. There were the limp answers to Diane Sawyer’s questions on Benghazi. An answer to another Sawyer question on Clinton’s wealth was anemic, although she recovered the next day with Robin Roberts. Still, Clinton’s ability to relate to the middle class remains a niggling concern.

By making these real and imagined errors now, Clinton is learning two things. First, she’s learning the tenor and tone of questions on a host of issues that will vex her during a presidential campaign. She might have thought that the number of Bret Baier’s questions on Benghazi was borderline obsessive, but she got to hear them and answer under the less intense spotlight of a book tour. Second, Clinton is learning how to answer tough questions on tough subjects that are bound to come up during a presidential campaign.

In some ways, what Clinton is doing now reminds me a lot of what she did during the New York State listening tour she kicked off 15 years ago this weekend. In anticipation of her run in 2000 for a Senate seat in a state in which she had never lived, the then-first lady visited every county in New York listening to and learning from the people she met. By the time candidate Clinton came to us at the New York Daily News editorial board, she spoke with a depth of knowledge that surprised all of us. She even earned our endorsement.

But here’s the most important benefit of Clinton’s book tour for the perhaps-maybe presidential candidate. Not only does it give her a heads up on and practice for tough questions, it also neutralizes their power during a campaign. Barring any new news on issues such as Benghazi or her wealth, by the time Clinton hits the campaign trail more than a year from now, folks will be bored by and want to move on from what will be viewed as old news or distractions from the here and now. From that vantage point, Clinton’s book tour is a resounding success.


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