Would HRC Run Left Without Pressure?

Today’s big WaPo article is Anne Gearan’s report on the strategic thinking inside Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The implicit question Gearan asks is why HRC seems to be positioning herself more to “the left” than she did in 2008. And the more explicit answer from Team Hillary is that it’s all about the general electorate, and only incidentally about potential or actual primary opposition.

Hillary and her brain trust appear to have become convinced that her path to the White House is via a relatively close approximation of the Obama Coalition, with some bonus votes from women perhaps giving her a cushion and/or the ability to lose some Obama Coalition votes. And there’s simply no reason to move in a “centrist” direction, especially on cultural issues, in appealing to that kind of a coalition. Something of a “populist” economic message, moreover, albeit perhaps not as fiery or pointed as the kind favored by a Bernie Sanders or an Elizabeth Warren, seems a relatively safe and even positive proposition when it comes to the small group of swing voters who will be up for grabs this cycle.

[A]ides and advisers hope Clinton will not only inoculate herself against a serious challenge from the left in the primaries, but that she also will be able to push on through the general election. Her campaign believes American public opinion has moved left not only since Bill Clinton won election in 1992 on a centrist platform, but also since Barack Obama won on a more liberal one.

If true, then in theory at least HRC would have taken the same positions even if she faced no primary opposition, or even the kind of indirect but intense pressure Warren is placing on the Democratic Party as a whole.

I’m sure many of Clinton’s leftier critics don’t buy it, and figure she’s making a cold calculation that she wouldn’t make without being under duress. But on the other hand, don’t they believe culture-issues liberalism and economic “populism” are indeed what the whole country–not just Democrats–is longing for? And if so, why wouldn’t the “pragmatic” Clinton reach the same conclusion with or without a primary challenge or people wanting to “keep her honest”?

But people with longer memories may find this whole debate ironic. Back during Bill Clinton’s first term, when the White House staff was divided into progressive “Rodhams” and centrist “Gores,” would anyone have guessed we’d all someday be wondering why Hillary Clinton was articulating a liberal message? Probably not.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.