Democrats Greet Clinton Book Tour With Mixed Emotions
As Hillary Clinton prepares for a multi-state tour to promote her memoir of the 2016 campaign, Democrats are already registering mixed reviews.
Some in the party fear her planned reemergence will reopen old wounds and reinforce divides at a time when Democrats are desperate to move on. Others believe their presidential nominee, who made history as the first woman from a major party, deserves a platform to offer her assessment of what happened, which happens to be the title of the new book. And some are shrugging it off altogether, arguing there are more immediate tasks at hand and that the fast-changing news cycle—including another deadly hurricane—will swallow it anyway.
Tuesday marks the official publication date for the memoir, and the expensive, 15-city tour begins in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18. Clinton will kick it off on CBS on Sunday, her first official interview 10 months after the bruising campaign.
But excerpts of the book have already stirred up news and some controversy. In one notable example, the former Democratic presidential nominee argues that Bernie Sanders' attacks during the primary "caused lasting damage" on her campaign and served as a boon to Donald Trump.
To that, Sanders expressed feelings that are widespread within the party by saying, in an interview with The Hill: "It’s appropriate to look forward and not backward."
Others were less diplomatic.
Please Hillary, don't go there. I supported you. Bernie showed restraint & class & ran aspirational campaign. Politics is rough sometimes. https://t.co/UenQ2jbaXJ— Rep. Jared Huffman (@JaredHuffman) September 6, 2017
RoseAnn DeMoro, the executive director of National Nurses United and a top Sanders supporter, panned the book as "pathetic," characterizing it as a public relations campaign.
"There are folks who prefer we just move on and not have to continue to rehash the 2016 election, or wish Secretary Clinton would move off the stage," said Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon, noting he welcomes Clinton's remarks.
"And there are other people who understand she won the popular vote and would have been an incredibly better president than what we have. She has a lot of experience on campaigns, and everything I’ve seen suggests she wants to be a participant in rebuilding the Democratic Party."
Unlike some of her predecessors, Clinton has not shied away from the public stage since losing the election. She gave the commencement address at her alma mater, Wellesley College, and has participated in various speaking engagements, particularly for women's groups. She has weighed in on political issues of the day, critical of Trump, Russian interference in the election, and actions taken by the former FBI Director James Comey. "If the election had been on Oct. 27, I would be your president," she said at a forum in May.
But the book and accompanying tour—which will take her through some key states she lost, including Michigan and Wisconsin—will serve as her most thorough and candid explanation of her version of events over the past two years of the campaign. "Now free from the constraints of running," reads a press release from publisher Simon & Schuster, "for the first time, Hillary Clinton reveals what she was thinking and feeling during one of the most controversial and unpredictable presidential elections in history."
Postmortems of the election have already been exhaustive. And in many ways, the campaign appears perpetual. President Trump often recounts his Electoral College victory. Fox News host Sean Hannity continues to question Clinton's use of a private email server. Congressional committees and special counsel Robert Mueller continue to investigate Russian meddling in the election. And last week Trump, whose administration argued Comey's treatment of Clinton was grounds for his firing, tweeted:
Wow, looks like James Comey exonerated Hillary Clinton long before the investigation was over...and so much more. A rigged system!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 1, 2017
The president also retweeted an Internet meme that took a jab at her book:
But when Clinton returns to the stage, she will find much has changed in 10 months. For starters, Sanders is considered the most popular Democrat in the country, according to a recent poll. Clinton, by contrast, remains unpopular. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds just 30 percent of respondents felt positively about her. That's below Trump, who registered at 36 percent, which Gallup also reports.
Next week, the Vermont senator will unveil a Medicare-for-all, single-payer health care plan, support for which has become something of a litmus test for Democrats. Potential 2020 candidates like Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren have already signed on as co-sponsors, one signal of the party's leftward shift.
Trump's presidency has energized the Democratic base in a way Clinton and other party leaders at the time could not.
"Everywhere I go, I meet a ton of people who were not involved at all before Jan. 20," said Jason Kander, a former Missouri secretary of state and rising star in the party. "If there is some individual that has brought these people in, it's a neighbor or someone they went to high school with." In other words, the energy of the party is outside of the political class. "It's time to grab an oar. And I imagine that's true whether you live in Kansas City, or whether you're a former Democratic nominee for president."
And while deep divisions within the party remain, and the road is still long in terms of rebuilding and winning after the campaign, congressional Democrats have stayed united through tough battles, like the failed effort to repeal Obamacare. Just this week, leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi got Trump to sign on to their short-term debt ceiling proposal.
Also working to the Democrats' advantage: Trump has been so busy picking fights with his own party that he has not focused on the loyal opposition the way Republicans would like. Clinton's return could alter that dynamic, as the president has not quit her as a rival. GOP campaign groups are looking forward to the Clinton tour as an opportunity to shift attention toward Democratic Party troubles.
According to excerpts published by CNN, Clinton recalls "the so-called Bernie Bros" harassing her supporters online. "It got ugly and more than a little sexist," she writes. Sanders’ attacks on her during the primary "caused lasting damage, making it harder to unify progressives in the general election and paving the way for Trump's 'Crooked Hillary' campaign."
Sanders "didn't get into the race to make sure a Democrat won the White House, he got in to disrupt the Democratic Party," she writes, according to CNN.
But her gripes aren't limited to Sanders. Joe Biden said the Democratic Party in 2016 "did not talk about what it always stood for—and that was how to maintain a burgeoning middle class,” Clinton writes, according to the CNN review. "I find this fairly remarkable, considering that Joe himself campaigned for me all over the Midwest and talked plenty about the middle class." In the book, Clinton also reportedly questions whether President Obama could have been more effective in calling attention to Russian interference in the election.
While Clinton takes responsibility for her campaign in the book, she also takes aim at Comey. “Was this a bad joke?” she writes, according to excerpts obtained by the Daily Beast. “It had to be. The FBI wasn’t the Federal Bureau of Ifs or Innuendos. Its job was to find out the facts. What the hell was Comey doing?”
Clinton then explains that she was inclined to strike back at Comey, who she said "badly overstepped his bounds," according to the Daily Beast excerpts, but that she and her campaign ultimately decided against the confrontational approach. "Looking back, that was a mistake.”
Some Democrats say Clinton's recollection of the campaign in her own words could be refreshing, particularly after being criticized for being too filtered. In excerpts released by the publisher, for example, Clinton reveals how she felt about an infamous moment during the second presidential debate, just after the "Access Hollywood" scandal, when Trump hovered near her. “It was incredibly uncomfortable. He was literally breathing down my neck," she writes.
"For months people were asking for her analysis and postmortem on the campaign. She was our nominee and received the majority of the votes and her opinion on what happened can and should matter," said Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist and former spokesman for the campaign, who has not yet read the book. "And while I may agree or may not agree with every opinion she has, we spent nearly a year with people criticizing her for not being honest and forthright enough, so you can’t then criticize her for telling us what she really thinks."
And even some of those who have been critical of Democratic leadership say Clinton has a role to play moving forward. "We have to move on, but Hillary Clinton is always going to be a thought leader in the Democratic Party because there aren't many people in the country who understand what's going on in the world like she does," said Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who challenged Pelosi for Democratic leader last year.
"It's a natural period of transition for us, but it’s allowing other voices to emerge," Ryan said, noting recruits for congressional races next year. "It's good for us to have all these new voices out there and see all these Democrats from different parts of the country."