NEW YORK — As if Hillary Clinton's book tour isn't already indistinguishable from a presidential campaign, outside groups are facing off to argue over her diplomatic record as she depicts it in Hard Choices, her State Department memoir.
On one side is America Rising, a Republican PAC and rapid-response operation — which is putting out an e-book rebuttal called Failed Choices —and the GOP, which sent out a "briefing book" this week to its supporters, disputing Clinton's writings on the Benghazi attack that killed American diplomats and the U.S. relationship with Russia during her tenure as Secretary of State.
On the other side is Correct the Record, part of the American Bridge political action committee, which sent out a memo Monday identifying and rebutting Republican criticisms of the book, including Clinton's account of the Benghazi attack that killed American diplomats. "The right wing falsely equates every hard choice to a bad choice,'' director Isaac Wright says in the memo.
Both sides try to influence news stories, offer surrogates to attack or defend Clinton in radio and TV interviews, and use social media to spread their messages. And for both sides, Clinton's book tour is a dry run for the presidential race she has said she is considering.
"The prospect of Hillary Clinton's candidacy certainly employs a lot of people on both sides,'' says John Hudak, a campaigns expert at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. Independent political spending groups and full-time messaging operations mean that "a Clinton book tour, a Clinton anything tour, and then eventually what I assume will be a campaign, definitely motivates a lot of people to respond.''
Clinton began signing copies of her book Tuesday morning at a bookstore in Manhattan where the first buyer lined up on Monday afternoon. A "Hillary Bus" from the grassroots recruiting group Ready for Hillary was scheduled to pull up as well. The event is the first of at least a dozen she has scheduled to promote the book, and in addition she is sitting for multiple TV and print interviews.
In her book appearances and interviews, Clinton can show herself as rested and healthy, and talk about what she wants to discuss, Hudak says. "If she's effective… she's going to control the narrative about herself from now until the day she announces. You can't buy that.''
Not if the GOP can help it. In addition to the briefing book, party spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski says the RNC has staff dedicated to rebutting Clinton's memoir, booking surrogates for interviews about Clinton's record, and "bracketing" her appearances -- that is, trying to earn media coverage of their criticisms before and after Clinton appearances. "We need to make sure voters have the opposing viewpoint,'' she says.
Correct the Record, a project founded by David Brock, once a fierce critic of the Clintons, exists solely to rebut criticism of Democrats, particularly Hillary Clinton, says its spokeswoman Adrienne Elrod. Correct the Record uses social media and surrogates to defend Clinton in media interviews. "There's no secret that this is all amped up a little more'' with the publication of Hard Choices, she says.
"Both sides benefit'' from Clinton's book tour, says political scientist Larry Sabato. Clinton's opposition, the GOP, keeps itself in the news even though Republicans don't have an obvious frontrunner for 2016. "Both sides are running a shadow campaign two years early.''
If Clinton runs for the presidency -- and ''there's just no one out there who thinks she isn't running,'' Sabato says -- the months of foreign policy discussion during her book tour will fade.
"It's rare, unless there is an ongoing, hot, unpopular war, that foreign policy takes center stage'' in a presidential campaign, says Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center on Politics.
What will have an impact on her potential candidacy are the many interviews she will give, Sabato says. Publisher Simon & Schuster says it has already sold 1 million copies to book retailers — a lot for a political book — but 6 million people watched Clinton's interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer Monday, according to preliminary Nielsen ratings.
Those interviews have already created the first "gaffe" cycle. Clinton was widely panned for telling Sawyer that she and her husband took lucrative speaking gigs because they were "dead broke" after leaving the White House and needed to make money to pay their mortgages. She appeared on ABC Tuesday morning and backpedalled, saying the Clinton's were "blessed" but they understood the economic struggles of regular American families.