President Donald Trump may be the only person in politics truly excited about Hillary Clinton’s book tour.
Democratic operatives can’t stand the thought of her picking the scabs of 2016, again — the Bernie Sanders divide, the Jim Comey complaints, the casting blame on Barack Obama for not speaking out more on Russia. Alums of her Brooklyn headquarters who were miserable even when they thought she was winning tend to greet the topic with, “Oh, God,” “I can’t handle it,” and “the final torture.”
Political reporters gripe privately (and on Twitter) about yet another return to the campaign that will never end. Campaign operatives don’t want the distraction, just as they head into another election season. And members of Congress from both parties want the focus on an agenda that’s getting more complicated by the week.
But with a new NBC News poll showing her approval rating at 30 percent, the lowest recorded for her, Clinton kicks it off on Tuesday with a signing at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in New York. She’ll keep it going all the way through December, all across the country.
“Maybe at the worst possible time, as we are fighting some of the most high-stakes policy and institutional battles we may ever see, at a time when we’re trying to bring the party together so we can all move the party forward — stronger, stronger together,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, a Democrat who represents a Northern California district. “She’s got every right to tell her story. Who am I to say she shouldn’t, or how she should tell it? But it is difficult for some of us, even like myself who’ve supported her, to play out all these media cycles about the blame game, and the excuses.”
In a tweet late Tuesday night, Huffman pleaded with Clinton to stop blaming Sanders for her loss, as she partly does in the book, according to excerpts that leaked ahead of its release. Huffman said the tweet had gotten a lot of “likes” from his colleagues — albeit in private conversations with him.
“There is a collective groan,” he said, “whenever there’s another news cycle about this.”
Asked again, she started shaking her head, walking away.
“I’ve always been a looking forward kind of a guy,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), asked the same question on Wednesday. “I think I’ll leave it at that.”
Even elected Republicans say they’ve had enough.
“I look forward to going to every place where she appears,” Sen. John McCain of Arizona said sarcastically.
McCain pointed out that he didn’t write a book after losing the 2008 presidential race.
“I respect and admire and am a friend of Hillary’s,” he said. “But with these kind of things that happen in life, you’ve got to move on. You’ve got to quickly move on.”
Then again, Clinton’s first event sold out in hours, and the book vaulted to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list weeks before its release, almost certain to set a 2017 record.
For Clinton, it’s not about the future of the Democratic Party. She’s promoting the book because she doesn’t think the story of 2016 has been told properly. People close to her believe there’s still no closure from 2016, and that no one has offered a reliable autopsy.
Her inner circle — which has been slowly whittled down to longtime aides like Huma Abedin, Nick Merrill, Philippe Reines, Dan Schwerin and a few friends — is defiant.
“I think she should just zip it, but she’s not going to,” said one top Democratic donor who spoke with Clinton about the book this summer.
Merrill didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.
Many people close to her and supportive of her insist that any concerns about relitigating 2016 are just wrong. Democratic and White House politics are shaped around last year’s campaign regardless, they say, and her voice is the only one not currently part of the conversation.
Clinton has spoken with friends about how Republicans are likely to be apoplectic over the book tour. But every time she shows her face in public she’s mobbed by fans, and her allies believe there are tens of millions of people who want to hear from her.
“Her book and her tour is not just important for history, it’s so important for now,” said longtime Clinton friend and fundraiser Robert Zimmerman, who is also a Democratic National Committee member. “It’s a very healthy conversation to have, and it’s important to put the internal party issues in perspective. If we’re going to move forward as a party, and if we’re going to move forward as a country, Hillary Clinton’s experiences, her insight, is essential.”
“People will be giving her a second hearing,” predicted Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.). “And given the way the fella’s performing in the White House, people are having buyer’s remorse.”
It’s not hard to imagine Trump belittling Clinton’s book via his Twitter feed. But some Democrats have already beat him to it.
“A Sad, Petty ‘It’s Everyone Else’s Fault,’ Book,” read an email from Sanders die-hard (and Clinton’s 2006 Senate primary opponent) Jonathan Tasini.
“Pathetic. But it is a planned mass PR campaign in prep for the corporate #Dems next candidate. Reality: 75% did not vote 4 her. Denial,” tweeted RoseAnn DeMoro, the executive director of National Nurses United.
Clinton worked on the book with a small team of personal aides, but consulted a wide range of friends and former staffers. Sections of the book have been floating around among sympathetic Democrats for weeks, so many Clinton allies are bracing for impact.
“It will be a hubbub for two or three months,” predicted former DNC chairman and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Clinton family friend who was consulted during Hillary’s book-writing process. “There will be a controversy about it.”
Even among some of Clinton’s former aides, there’s an exhaustion of not wanting to have to defend her anymore. They’ve spent the past two weeks chattering among themselves about the rollout, including frustration over the sheer number of Twitter jokes about Clinton visiting Wisconsin on the tour — something she famously didn’t do during the general election.
Republicans and Sanders-aligned Democrats quickly started mocking the high cost of entry to some events — “VIP Platinum” tickets to her Toronto stop, for example, run up to $3,000 and include a meet-and-greet — that reminds them of the paid speech controversy that dogged her throughout the campaign.
Many also believe the party has largely moved on from 2016, and that this is a selfish endeavor more about Clinton’s own feelings than helping the party or country take their next steps. Others worry about the sections on Obama, including Clinton’s speculation in the book about what would have happened had the former president done a prime-time address on Russian interference in the election. Clinton also takes a swipe at Joe Biden for criticizing her since the election.
And many current candidates don’t want to be anywhere near her. After the initial book tour schedule was posted last month, one Democratic operative working on 2018 races notified 15 campaign clients that Clinton would be within 500 miles of them, warning them to prepare: “The more the focus is on us, and not Trump, the harder 2018 is going to be.”
Republicans, on the other hand, love pointing out that with their own party tearing itself apart, nothing unifies them like the opportunity to attack Clinton.
Many GOP pros are relishing the book tour, eager to tie Democratic candidates to their unpopular former nominee and take the focus off their own president and party rifts.