The media normally treats a politician’s dramatic policy shifts as insincere or foolish “flip-flops,” at least when it’s Republicans changing their minds.
Let’s see how they handle one of the most blatant flip-flops in recent memory, as presidential candidate Hillary Clinton suddenly denounces the huge Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that she championed when she was Secretary of State.
This would also be the trade deal that President Obama is very much in favor of, making Clinton’s flip “perhaps her biggest break with the Obama Administration yet,” in the judgment of NBC News.
Possibly also a factor: “Clinton’s Democratic rivals Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley have decried it as bad for workers.”
She probably doesn’t lose much sleep worrying about what Martin O’Malley decries, but Bernie Sanders is another story; Clinton has been tacking hard Left to compete with Sanders as her scandal-infected poll numbers wither.
She may also be about to face a challenge from Vice President Joe Biden, who, like Obama, favors the deal.
Much as she did with the Keystone XL pipeline, Clinton put on a little show of deliberating before announcing her new position, although it wasn’t as comically overwrought as Clinton telling a town-hall questioner two months ago to quit pestering her about Keystone until after she became president.
In the end, Clinton told Judy Woodruff of PBS on Wednesday, “As of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it. I don’t believe it’s going to meet the high bar I have set.”
She cited concerns about “currency manipulation not being part of the agreement,” and that her old nemesis the pharmaceutical industry – which came in for quite a beating when Clinton was trying to sell her health-care takeover in the Nineties – would benefit too much.
In June, while noting that Clinton seemed curiously reluctant to support a trade deal she strongly supported in the past, CNN prepared a list of forty-five previous occasions when she championed the TPP, often in very bold terms. Doubtless Clinton will now say the final product of the Administration’s efforts falls very short of her expectations… which will tremendously annoy Biden, and give him a long history of pro-TPP sound bites to throw back at her.
However, Biden is also in a bad position to maneuver to the Left on this issue, since he can hardly join Clinton in denouncing the deal. Biden gets a great deal of his support from Big Labor, and they’re not thrilled about the TPP either, but he has resisted fairly explicit threats to hold his support for the deal against him during a presidential run. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has said unions would be unlikely to line up for Clinton unless she opposed the deal, and has criticized her for playing coy for so long about whether she supported it.
As the Associated Press noted today, Biden has been lobbying congressional Democrats to support the deal and also selling it abroad, cheerfully hailing it as a “game-changer.” Biden’s office confirmed today that he would continue to play those roles in support of the TPP.
It would be interesting if he got into the presidential race, after listening to union workers shout “Run, Joe, run!” at him during last month’s Labor Day parade, only to find unions supporting Clinton over the Trans-Pacific Partnership.