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Hillary Clinton Indicates No Pivot to Center For General Election

The economic agenda Clinton hopes to use to beat Trump looks a lot like the one she used to beat Bernie Sanders.
Image: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during the Democratic U.S. presidential candidates' debate in Flint
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during the Democratic U.S. presidential candidates' debate in Flint, Michigan, on March 6, 2016.Jim Young / Reuters

The economic agenda Hillary Clinton hopes to use to beat Donald Trump looks a lot like the one she used to beat Bernie Sanders.

Her speech Wednesday, the second in back-to-back remarks on the economy this week, was notable for how little new ground it broke. While many candidates pivot to the ideological center after a primary campaign, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee gave no indication she’s backing off the relatively liberal agenda she embraced when Sanders was nipping at her heels.

“As I said during the primary, I am a progressive that likes to get things done,” Clinton told 2,000 supporters in Raleigh, North Carolina, Wednesday.

Clinton called for “big, bold” ideas to the get the economy working again, with a central role for an activist federal government.

She repeatedly stressed the importance of doing away with college debt and expanding Social Security benefits — two issues brought to the fore by progressive activists in recent years — and reiterated her opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, which is opposed by unions and many on the left.

Clinton also vowed to address corporate tax dodging and crack down on Wall Street and corporate abuses, borrowing a line from liberal economist Joseph Stiglitz’ plan to “rewrite the rules” on corporate governance so more profits get shared more equitably with employees.

Earlier in the day, Clinton met behind closed doors with congressional Democrats on Capitol Hill, where she gave similar assurances. The former secretary of state told lawmakers that she believes sticking with a “bold, progressive agenda” gives the party its “best chance of winning together and creating change that improves people's lives,” according to a Clinton aide.

Related: Clinton: Trump Would 'Bankrupt America' Like One of His Casinos

The approach is unlikely to win over Sanders holdouts who likely still view her agenda as weak tea — though some met her remarks with approval.

But Clinton’s speech is an indication that she, and by extension the Democratic Party as a whole, feel they have the political high ground on the key questions of taxes, jobs, and the economy in 2016.

Clinton’s husband famously declared the “era of Big Government is over” and embraced a centrist, business-friendly agenda that broke from his party’s liberal wing. But the political landscape has shifted dramatically since the 1990s.

Now, it’s the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, Donald Trump, who is breaking with his party on trade, taxes, and more.

But the policy portion of Clinton's speech — a lengthy, State of the Union-style laundry list of ideas culled from think-tank white papers — was the vegetable portion before a dessert of fresh Trump bashing.

“Donald Trump and I disagree on a lot of things and one of them is simple math,” she said. "It takes more than stern words or a flashy slogan. It takes a plan, and it takes experience."

Trump had delivered his own speech only a few hours earlier, in which he threw a CPAC’s worth of attacks at Clinton on everything from her temperament to her foreign policy.

“He’s going after me personally because he has no answers on the substance,” Clinton said. “All he can do is try to distract us.”

Related: Donald Trump Tries to Reset Race With Hillary Clinton Onslaught

If Clinton’s earlier speech on Tuesday sought to completely destroy Trump and salt the earth under Trump Tower to make sure no gilded high-rises ever grow there again, her speech Wednesday took a more lighthearted approach.

“He has no credible plan for rebuilding our infrastructure, apart from his wall. He has no real strategy for creating jobs, just a string of empty promises. And maybe we shouldn’t expect better from someone who’s most famous words are ‘you’re fired,’” Clinton said, winding up for her punchline. “I do have a jobs program, and as president I'm going to make sure you hear 'you're hired.'”

She uttered the word “sigh” out loud as a response to Trump's questioning of her religious faith.

And she gave a rare, hearty defense of The Clinton Foundation, which was at the center of many of Trump’s charges earlier Wednesday.

“[Trump is] attacking a philanthropic foundation that saves and improves lives around the world,” she said. “The Clinton Foundation helps poor people around the world get access to life-saving AIDS medicine. Donald Trump uses poor people around the world to produce his line of suits and ties.”