Hillary Clinton almost never says the words "Bernie Sanders" on the campaign trail despite the fact that the Vermont socialist is running ahead of her in the New Hampshire primary and has been surprisingly competitive with the former secretary of state in the fight for fundraising dollars.
But just because Clinton doesn't say Sanders's name doesn't mean he isn't on her mind -- a lot. He quite clearly is, with the latest piece of evidence being her decision, announced Wednesday afternoon, to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership. TPP is a massive trade deal that the Obama administration views as one of its second-term legacy items and that Clinton, as secretary of state, was on the record as supporting.
"TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field," Clinton said in 2012. "And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 percent of the world's total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment."(CNN listed 45 times that Clinton spoke in support of TPP.)
The trade agreement is vehemently opposed by key liberal constituencies -- the labor movement, most notably -- who view it as an invitation for corporations to move jobs overseas, and by Sanders, who has said of the deal that it is "time for the rest of us to stop letting multinational corporations rig the system to pad their profits at our expense."
Clinton's reversal on TPP comes hard on the heels of her decision, after months and months of deliberation, to oppose the building of the Keystone XL pipeline -- another position held by Sanders and the liberal elements within the Democratic party. (Interestingly, organized labor favors Keystone because of its potential to create jobs.)
It's not hard to see that Clinton, concerned with the surprisingly strong challenge by Sanders from her ideological left, is working to put out that fire by allowing zero distance between her and the Vermonter on these two high-profile issues.
What's fascinating though is that there is still scant evidence that liberals have soured on Clinton in any meaningful way. In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, Clinton led Sanders 42 percent to 24 percent among all Democrats. Among self-described liberals, the race was closer, but Clinton still led Sanders by 10 points. In an August WaPo-ABC survey, 80 percent of Democrats had a favorable view of Clinton while 18 percent had an unfavorable one. Among liberals, 66 percent had a favorable view as compared to 33 percent who saw her in an unfavorable light. There's plenty more evidence out there that liberals like -- if not love -- Clinton, and would be fine voting for her.
And yet, Clinton decided to reverse herself on TPP -- no matter what her campaign says, she was a supporter of the deal -- and take the flip-flopper flak rather than risk putting distance between herself and the party base. Worth noting: Vice President Biden, a longtime friend of organized labor, continues to mull a run for the Democratic nomination. So it's possible Clinton was trying to box Biden as well as Sanders out with this decision, as noted by WaPo's Paul Kane.
Clinton's announcement against TPP (nod to labor) lands minutes before Biden takes stage to talk to labor leaders at White House summit.
— Paul Kane (@pkcapitol) October 7, 2015
Clinton also may still be stung by the slings and arrows she took from Barack Obama during the 2008 primary campaign for her support of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) during her husband's presidency.
This mailer, which was sent to Ohio primary voters in 2008, caused a massive stir in that race.
Clinton, insisting that her position had been mischaracterized, attacked Obama and let loose with the now-infamous "Shame on you, Barack Obama" line.
It's clear that Clinton and her campaign made a simple calculation: The damage done by flip-flopping on TPP was less worrisome than the reverberations on the left -- and among unions especially -- if she supported the trade deal.
That's a concession, whether the Clinton folks admit it or not, that they are more than a little concerned about Sanders. Fact.