I thought I’d go through Clinton’s stances on the issues, to see if that sheds more light on what she’s really up to. Short version: Clinton is indeed ministering to Obama coalition voter groups — minorities, millennials, college educated whites. But nonetheless, she’s thus far campaigning like a mainstream Democrat. In fact, those things are now two sides of the same coin. Meanwhile, very few of her positions thus far preclude reaching beyond those groups.
Immigration: Clinton supports a path to citizenship. That has majority support nationally. While many note she suggested she’d go further than Obama’s executive actions on deportations, in reality she has only proposed building on them very modestly, if at all. Would that alienate other voter groups? Maybe, but national polling is mixed on executive action.
Even so, because the Democratic Party is far more unified on immigration than ever, partly because of its increased reliance on Latinos, backing executive action is a must in a nominee. (Indeed, Martin O’Malley is attacking her from the left on immigration.) On this issue, she’s a mainstream Dem.
Gay rights: Clinton’s shift in favor of gay marriage occurred relatively late. But so did that of many, many other leading Dems. It would now be unthinkable for a Dem nominee not to support marriage equality. Yes, former president Clinton was a relative troglodyte on the issue. But this only underscores how rapid the cultural shift on it has been — forcing both parties to play varying degrees of catch-up. Indeed, it now has broad majority support across the country and may soon receive protection as a Constitutional right. So it’s hard to see how favoring gay marriage precludes reaching beyond the core Dem coalition.
Criminal justice reform: It’s true that Clinton called for an end to the era of mass incarceration that her husband helped usher in. While that is partly about speaking to minority voters, the cultural shift among the broader electorate since the 1990s on crime has been so pronounced that criminal justice reform is now a bipartisan issue.
Voting rights: Clinton’s embrace of automatic, universal voter registration is certainly an example of her speaking directly to the Obama coalition. In fairness, this could alienate some groups outside that coalition. But absent good polling on this, it’s hard to know for sure. It’s possible, for instance, that a key Hillary target, non-college white women — particularly single ones, who tend to vote more sporadically — might support it.
Climate change: Yes, Clinton has pledged to protect Obama’s climate actions. It’s also true that some Dems in more conservative states have balked at his climate agenda. But even this is starting to change: Gary Peters won a Michigan Senate seat last year with an aggressive climate message. It’s also true her stance might alienate some blue collar whites in the Rust Belt. But we still have no idea how much of an emphasis Clinton will put on climate issues. Meanwhile, Clinton actually is seen by advocates as insufficiently hawkish on climate.
It’s hard to see a Dem winning the nomination without adopting an agenda that acknowledges global warming as a major challenge, making this yet another area where Clinton is basically a mainstream Dem.
Minimum wage: Clinton supports hiking the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, another mainstream Dem position that has majority support. But she has refrained from endorsing the $15-per-hour goal of a burgeoning lefty movement.
Other economic issues: Clinton has not yet said whether she backs a financial transaction tax or breaking up the big banks, or whether she opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership — three of the most important priorities of the Elizabeth Warren wing of the party. There are reasons to think she could stop short of embracing the first two. She very well might back the TPP, if its labor and environmental protections are given the thumbs up by experts.
On taxes, Clinton may mostly stick to supporting the sort of loophole-closings and tax hikes on inherited wealth and capital gains that Obama has called for. She may well stick to a slate of policies she’s already come out for — ones that strengthen the safety net, foster family-friendly workplace flexibility, and invest in education and job creation — without backing quite the kind of far-reaching economic agenda some on the left want. This, too, would put her in the Democratic mainstream.
Conclusion: Clinton has shifted to the left on some cultural issues, and that is partly about speaking to the Obama coalition. But this reflects the changing nature of the Democratic Party. Indeed, the party’s growing reliance on the Obama coalition is the very reason she’s speaking more directly to those voters in the first place. Does that mean the party has moved leftward? Maybe, but on many of these issues, the rest of the country has, too. So none of this necessarily precludes broadening beyond that coalition.
Meanwhile, on economic issues, she has not embraced the Warren-wing agenda in key areas, and the key economic prescriptions she has adopted have broad majority support. Have I mentioned that based on her campaign thus far, Clinton is essentially a mainstream Democrat?