By Amie Parnes - 08/31/14 06:00 AM EDT
The political world is still waiting for a decision from Hillary Clinton on the 2016 presidential race.
But observers have recently got a preview of what would lay in store from, and for, Clinton should she take the plunge.
Over the summer months, she released a book, “Hard Choices,” about her time at the State Department and waded into domestic policy for the first time in four years.
So, what did we learn?
1) Anything Clinton says is news. So is anything Clinton doesn’t say.
When Clinton last week weighed in on the events in Ferguson, Mo. following the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer, her comments drew instant headlines and lit up the Twitterverse.
During a paid speech at a tech conference in San Francisco, Clinton said that “we can’t ignore the inequities that persist in our justice system” and referred to how the unrest in Ferguson had made “our streets look like a war zone.”
But the silence that preceded those remarks, which stretched out for more than two weeks during a string of book-signing appearances, also became news.
MSNBC host Chris Hayes took to Twitter to call her failure to comment “downright bizarre.” Hayes’ tweet followed remarks by civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton, another MSNBC host. At a rally, Sharpton had demanded that Clinton, along with potential GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush, should not “get laryngitis on this issue.”
“Nobody can go to the White House unless they stop by our house and talk about policing,” Sharpton said.
Hillary allies defended her decision to refrain from immediate comment.
“I think it was appropriate that she not quickly discuss it, in part because she is not a candidate yet, and she was not out and about giving speeches at the time,” said one former longtime Hillary aide.
“She also is appropriately cautious in reviewing developing circumstances. She is aware that anything she says is dissected, debated, supported and attacked so that gives her good reason to be measured in remarks on most anything,” the aide added.
2) The left doesn’t really hate her after all
In recent weeks, critics and even some Democratic allies have worried that Clinton has failed to satisfy some on the left.
On Vox.com earlier this month, Ezra Klein wrote that “liberals walk away unnerved” after almost every interview Clinton had done around her recent book tour.
“She bumbled through a discussion of gay marriage with [NPR’s] Terry Gross. She dodged questions about the Keystone XL pipeline. She’s had a lot of trouble discussing income inequality,” Klein asserted.
Other progressives have expressed a desire to see a candidate rooted within the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), challenge Clinton.
But poll numbers provide succor to Clinton supporters.
A CNN poll conducted in late July showed that there was essentially no difference in the backing Clinton received from self-identified liberal Democrats over Democrats as a whole. Sixty-six percent of liberal Democrats supported her, as did 67 percent of all party supporters.
Clinton allies object to the notion that the former secretary of State is in trouble with the left.
“She is progressive and has support from the vast majority of progressives, which I would argue spans from the left to the middle, including some conservative Democrats along the way, too,” said one longtime aide.
Another ally who has worked for Clinton took it a step further, insisting that the he idea of widespread unease about her on the left was a “fictional plot that people want to believe is true.”
3) She’s learned her lesson with women
When Clinton’s campaign ended in 2008, she conducted an unsparing post-mortem on what went wrong, spending meeting after meeting trying to get to the bottom of the matter.
One of the biggest takeaways from those sessions was that she had made a fatal flaw in not embracing the historic nature of her campaign as, potentially, the first female president. Senior strategist Mark Penn had discouraged highlighting gender, a tactic other aides came to see as a monumental error.
Clinton has already determined not to make the same mistake this time around, even before she has made a formal decision on whether to mount a second presidential bid.
Key super-PACs Ready for Hillary and Correct the Record have repeatedly highlighted the work she did for women as secretary of State. And in recent days, it was announced that Clinton will be addressing a women’s forum organized by the DNC next month, further highlighting her interest in appealing to this key constituency.
4) She’ll keep facing questions about Obama
Both Clinton and President Obama say they have put the bitterness of their 2008 primary struggle behind them.
But more and more, Clinton has distanced herself from the president on issues, including the civil war in Syria.
Earlier this month, the separation grew more obvious when Clinton said in an interview that “great nations need organizing principle and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”
“Don’t do stupid stuff,” had previously been put forth by Obama as a key rule-of-thumb for his own foreign policy.
Clinton ended up having to call Obama to offer an explanation and her spokesman issued a statement pledging that the two would “hug it out” later.
Further parsing of her relationship with Obama is sure to be a running theme during any future campaign.
5) People love to hate her (and love to love her.)
Alongside, “Hard Choices,” two prominent anti-Clinton books hit the bookshelves this summer:” “Clinton Inc.” by Daniel Halper and “Blood Feud” by Ed Klein.
While some criticized Klein’s book as less-than-credible — even Rush Limbaugh publicly questioned some of the dialogue featured in its pages — it sold well and even bumped Clinton’s own tome from the top spot on the New York Times bestseller list.
But Hillary supporters say the summer also showed the depth of enthusiasm for a Clinton presidential candidacy. To date, Ready for Hillary reports having more than 100,000 donors, receiving more than 150,000 contributions and attracting nearly two million supporters on Facebook, far outstripping any comparable operation for a potential candidate from either party.
The support for a presidential run has to be evident by now, former aides note.
“It's gotta be in her head,” one said.