Hillary Clinton Theater: Flip-Flops on Free Trade Deal, But Will Back It After November

Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton makes a point during the Brown & Black Forum, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Hillary Clinton’s position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal is difficult to follow, if you take her rhetoric seriously.  She was a big booster of the deal during her time as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state, memorably calling it the “gold standard” of trade agreements.

What happened is obvious enough: she really does support TPP, but she felt obliged to claim she had reconsidered her support because Big Labor hates it, and she could not let Bernie Sanders use the issue against her in the Democrat primary.

The Associated Press noticed that once a reader passes through the cloud layer of anti-TPP rhetoric, nothing has really changed on the surface of Planet Clinton because she will not commit to actually stopping the deal (emphasis added):

Clinton’s campaign won’t say whether she would seek to renegotiate it with the 11 other TPP nations that have faced their own political challenges in selling it at home. The agreement has not yet been ratified by Congress.

Laura Rosenberger, foreign policy adviser for the Clinton campaign, said Clinton still supports the goal of a TPP that advances U.S. interests in the region. However, she said, the pact in its current form doesn’t meet three conditions needed for a trade deal: to create good jobs in the U.S., raise wages at home, and advance U.S. national security

If she will not renegotiate the deal, it’s going to happen. She will not need more than a few superficial concessions to claim her recently discovered objections have been addressed.

Alternatively, the AP suggests a highly plausible scenario where TPP is ratified with Republican congressional support during the “lame duck” session after the election, allowing Clinton to coast into the White House without getting her hands dirty. TPP supporters will cover for her by stressing the importance of putting the deal in place so the U.S. and its Pacific partners can turn their attention to the North Korean and Chinese threats.

The likelihood of lame-duck passage makes TPP a minor problem for Clinton; she was free to dispense all the labor-friendly rhetoric union bosses needed to hear, knowing all along that the agreement would most likely be out of the way before it could cause her any real political pain.

She will not have to worry too much about cleaning up her anti-TPP rhetoric, either. “Having been Secretary of State the first four years and architect of the administration’s Asia policy, she does think overall that the strategy is right,” Clinton foreign policy adviser and former State Department official Laura Rosenberger told the AP.

That will become the narrative after TPP goes through, and if some Democrat union voters are angry because they could have sworn she lured them away from Sanders by denouncing the trade deal … why, that’s their fault for misunderstanding Mrs. Clinton’s highly nuanced objections.

Politico also found Clinton’s close political ally, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, tap dancing around the question of Clinton’s stance on TPP.  He thought the deal would meet her “criteria” because the American Farm Bureau’s evaluation told him “exports will increase, and farmer income will increase.”

Vilsack is not trying to accuse Clinton of hypocrisy or insincerity; he’s setting her up for an easy flip-flop back to TPP support, after she spends a few more months pondering the deal … say, until after last rites have been pronounced over the Sanders insurgency.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker quoted Clinton’s “gold standard” comments when claiming she could not understand the presidential candidate’s flip-flop in a recent interview, insisting TPP is still the “gold standard,” the “toughest trade agreement out there in the world” – and claiming it has “evolved” to be even “better” since 2012.

Clinton is not going to run in the general election by calling her old chums in the Obama administration, and the outgoing President himself, fools for signing on to a lousy trade deal. If her opposition to TPP were more than symbolic, and temporary, she would issue a public demand for Obama to withdraw the deal, instead of pushing for a vote.

She will not do that.  All else is theater.

Former Obama transition team member Frank Jannuzi told the AP he did not think the opposition of Sanders, or Republican candidate Donald Trump, to TPP was likely to hold up if either of them reached the Oval Office; he predicted both would cave on the deal within two years of achieving the presidency.