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If she quacks like a presidential candidate...

By Tim Miller
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1520 GMT (2320 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tim Miller says Hillary Clinton is running for president right now whether she'll admit it or not
  • She should be held accountable as any other candidate would, he argues
  • Clinton is in the middle of a three-state West Coast trip this week

Editor's note: Tim Miller is the executive director of America Rising PAC, a conservative research, communications and tracking organization. He previously served as spokesman for the Republican National Committee and numerous national and state political campaigns. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- What do you call a politician who has close friends running three coordinating super PACs with a stated goal of laying the groundwork for that politician's presidential campaign?

You might call her Hillary Clinton, candidate for president of the United States.

The lazy, cliche take on how the media are covering Hillary Clinton is that there's too much of an early focus on someone who hasn't declared her intentions.

Tim Miller
Tim Miller

While it's true that the breathless "Will she or won't she?" chatter is overkill, the flaw is in the substance.

The reality is Hillary Clinton is running a campaign for president right now, whether she'll admit it or not, so she should be held to account by the media and voters the way any other candidate would.

This week that campaign has taken her to the West Coast, where she has been giving a series of stump speeches just the way a presidential candidate would -- only she's getting paid $200K a pop.

You can see the evidence of her taking advantage of this dichotomy -- letting her allies build a campaign while she avoids the scrutiny -- in her words, actions, and history.

There are clear incentives for Clinton to have her cake and eat it too.

An analysis of her favorability ratings over time shows that she's always polled the lowest when she's a candidate and highest when she can "stay above the fray." Her allies speculate that her favorability ratings may face a double-digit drop once she becomes an official candidate.

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Her State Department tenure was marked with the caution of someone eyeing a future campaign. According to the new book "HRC," she hired political staff to "keep the Clinton political network humming at State."

Her accomplishments were nil, largely because the only major policy risks she took -- a reset in Russia and support for the overthrow of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi in Libya -- have become vulnerabilities.

After over 20 years in Washington handing out favors to friends and moving with the political winds, it benefits Clinton to let some of the more controversial issues play out rather than take a stand now.

Among the vital issues she's currently taking a pass on are NSA spying (Clinton planned a speech, canceled it, and hasn't spoken in any detail on the subject since); the Keystone Pipeline, an issue that her department had jurisdiction over in the Obama administration; and the implementation of Obamacare.

While she avoids these critical issues, she is amassing an army of super PACs unprecedented in their scope. They work together -- with a clear division of labor -- to do her political bidding while giving her the cover to be a "private citizen."

-- Ready for Hillary is the grass-roots outfit run by longtime Clinton confidant Craig Smith, who has been called an "adopted son" of the Clintons. Smith told Time that the goal of the organization is "to build the Ferrari of grass-roots operations" for Hillary Clinton to drive when the time is right.

-- American Bridge PAC's Correct the Record is charged with defending Clinton's record in the media. Its founder, David Brock, is a top Clinton ally. The group's day-to-day operations are run by another Arkansan, Adrienne Elrod, who was with Clinton in 2008 and was tasked with staying on after the campaign to create a "hit list" of political foes, according to "HRC."

-- Priorities USA Action, once President Obama's super PAC, is run by a who's who of Democrat elites with ties to the Clintons and has committed to handling the big-dollar advertising campaign. Its board includes executives from both American Bridge and Ready for Hillary.

A spokesman for Ready for Hillary called the groups "a family."

So given that she has close friends building a coordinated family of grass-roots, messaging, fund-raising and advertising infrastructure for a campaign, what exactly are we speculating about again?

If Hillary Clinton wants to be treated as a private citizen/celebrity/world traveler who doesn't have to answer to voters and the media, she should disavow these PACs and ask her friends to stand down while she makes a decision. Short of that, she is a presidential candidate and should be treated as such.

She's a presidential candidate when she is being paid $200,000 to speak by companies that would lobby her administration should she be elected. She's a presidential candidate when she's traveling the country raising money for the Clinton Foundation from the same donor base that would fund her campaign. And she's a presidential candidate when she's choosing to avoid taking a stand on issues that might jeopardize her electoral chances.

So how about we shelve the "Will she or won't she?" and replace it with more "Does she or doesn't she?"

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