As soon as her new book hit store shelves Tuesday, Hillary Rodham Clinton became one of Twitter’s biggest punch lines, mocked for her claim she and her husband were penniless when they exited the White House in 2001.
But the furor over the Clintons’ supposed financial problems — the subject of a #HillaryIsSoPoor Twitter movement, complete with clever one-liners and photos of the couple’s impressive mansion — likely is just the tip of the iceberg, as Mrs. Clinton’s re-emergence in the public eye surely will fuel debate over the Benghazi affair and the broader issue of her time as secretary of state.
The former first lady and secretary of state is attempting to head off looming criticism with her book “Hard Choices,” telling ABC News that she “would give anything on earth” for the Benghazi terrorist attack, which claimed the lives of four Americans, to have not taken place.
Some analysts say Mrs. Clinton, admittedly eyeing a 2016 White House bid, is employing Politics 101 by releasing a memoir and using it to defend her record and paint her own narrative ahead of another presidential campaign.
Celebrity book tour
Indeed, the Tuesday launch of her book tour in Manhattan was described by The Associated Press as “a hybrid of celebrity book tour and campaign kickoff, with plenty of hints of a presidential run.” About 1,000 people cheered as Mrs. Clinton arrived at the Union Square Barnes & Noble — 20 minutes late — and gave a brief speech before the morning book signing.
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She described her book as “written for anybody who wants to think about, and learn about, what is happening in the world today.”
Despite that effort, she lacks control over how she’s perceived by some voters, as evidenced by this week’s viral Twitter craze.
Mrs. Clinton sparked the movement by telling ABC News she and former President Bill Clinton were “dead broke” and “in debt” when they left Washington — an explanation for why she rakes in about $200,000 for each public speech while at the same time casting herself as a warrior against income inequality and for the nation’s middle class.
“We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea’s education. You know, it was not easy,” she said. “I thought making speeches for money was a much better thing than getting connected with any one group or company, as so many people who leave public life do.”
Beyond her finances, Mrs. Clinton also will be playing defense on other more serious issues, according to some specialists.
Critics, such as Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, already have described her four-year tenure at the State Department as a failure.
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Mrs. Clinton herself struggled earlier this year to define her most notable accomplishments as the nation’s top diplomat, instead describing her time as secretary as a “relay” in which she ran a good race and then stepped aside to “hand off the baton.”
Tied to Obama
While Mrs. Clinton’s book offers a fierce defense of her time as America’s top diplomat, the final chapter has yet to be written. Her reputation, for better or worse, will be tied to President Obama’s foreign policy successes and/or failures, said Lara Brown, associate professor and program director with George Washington University’s political management program.
“Her biggest challenger is actually Barack Obama. Where his legacy ends is going to reflect on her,” she said. “Right now, the president has had a series of what are perceived as foreign policy missteps. If Barack Obama’s foreign policy is perceived as having not been successful there will be more questioning about her tenure there.”
Indeed, there are numerous foreign policy blunders that could dog Mrs. Clinton through her presidential campaign. In addition to Benghazi, Mrs. Clinton refused to label the Islamist group Boko Haram a terrorist organization — a step her successor, John F. Kerry, took just a few months after taking over as secretary.
Boko Haram is responsible for kidnapping hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls, the latest of a string of increasingly deadly attacks on Christians.
Mrs. Clinton also has taken fire for the failed “reset” with Russia and a host of other issues, all of which could weigh down her presidential bid.
“She will have the baggage that, traditionally, in modern times, vice presidents carry” when running for president, Ms. Brown said.
For historic precedent, Mrs. Clinton need look back no further than the 2008 general election, conducted in the shadow of low approval ratings for the two-term departing president, Republican George W. Bush.
Even though Republican John McCain wasn’t even a member of the Bush Cabinet (indeed, he ran against Mr. Bush in 2000 and often had been a thorn in his side while in the Senate), Mr. Obama’s campaign speeches repeatedly referred to the “Bush-McCain” record or “McCain-Bush” policies.
Tuesday’s book tour brought up the 2008 campaign in another sense. Mrs. Clinton again recalled, when asked by a reporter, about her book’s recounting her refusal to attack Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, as the Obama campaign team initially asked her.
“I said, ‘Attack her for what? For being a woman?’” Mrs. Clinton said she told the Obama campaign when it made the request of her.
“There’ll be plenty of time to do what I think you should do in politics, which is draw distinctions,” she said, implying that the initial flush of the Palin nomination — she was just the second woman and first Republican to run on a major-party presidential ticket — was not such a time.
While a serious debate on her foreign policy record surely is waiting down the road, Mrs. Clinton this week is dealing with a hail of mockery on Twitter for her claims of financial trouble.
The #HillaryIsSoPoor hashtag has at times blended the “dead broke” comment with Mrs. Clinton’s time at the State Department. “#HillaryIsSoPoor she couldn’t afford proper security for Benghazi,” reads one tweet.
The mockery was sufficiently strong that on Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton conceded that her “dead broke” comment needed some context.
In an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” she said she understands why some Americans may be confused or even angered by the statement. The couple’s net worth has been estimated to be between $100 million and $200 million.
“Everything in life has to be put into context,” Mrs. Clinton said. “As I recall, we were something like $12 million in debt” after leaving the White House.
Despite their current wealth, Mrs. Clinton said she and her husband sympathize with Americans struggling to make ends meet.
“We understand what that struggle is because we had student debts — both of us — we had to pay off; we had to work; I had a couple [of] jobs in law school; [and] he had lots of jobs,” she said. “We have a life experience clearly different in very dramatic ways from every American, but we also have gone through a lot of the same challenges as many people have.”