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While Wooing Republicans, Clinton Sticks to Progressive Policy

Even while courting Republicans, Hillary Clinton has made no ideological tack to the center.
Image: U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton smiles as she is introduced at Futuramic Tool & Engineering in Warren
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton smiles as she is introduced at Futuramic Tool & Engineering in Warren, Michigan August 11, 2016. REUTERS/Chris KeaneCHRIS KEANE / Reuters

What economic policy concessions might Hillary Clinton offer up to woo Republicans? If her speech Thursday in Warren, Michigan is any indication, the answer is: Nothing.

In her first major economic address since her campaign began actively courting the Republicans turned off by Donald Trump, Clinton made no major pivot to the ideological center.

Instead, Clinton reiterated several of the policy positions she adopted during her primary fight against Bernie Sanders, even while making a direct appeal to Independent voters and Republicans.

Clinton didn’t toy with entitlement reform or hint at grand bargains on deficit reduction. Instead, she talked about expanding Social Security, debt-free college, making corporations pay higher taxes, a public option for health care, raising the minimum wage, opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the concentration of wealth in “the top 1 percent.”

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“I will stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages -– including the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Clinton said. “I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as president.”

It was only a few years that President Obama angered the left by offering to cut Social Security benefits in order to get a deal with Republicans to reduce the deficit. He's since ruled out the idea and progressive activists, as reflected in Clinton's speech, have pushed the Democratic Party decisively in the opposite direction.

Still, by disaggregating Trump from the rest of the GOP, Clinton is trying to have it both ways -- make it safe for Republicans to support her candidacy while keeping liberals in her corner by running on the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party.

“Today's speech shows that getting some Republicans to say Donald Trump is unfit to be president is not mutually exclusive with Clinton running on bold progressives ideas like debt-free college, expanding Social Security benefits and Wall Street reform,” said Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee

Clinton has paid no price for leftward shift, since Trump is more interested in litigating her character than her policy in any kind of traditionally ideological way. Trump's own rhetoric on taxes and spending have undercut his and other Republicans' ability to tag Clinton as, say, a tax-and-spend liberal.

Republicans siding with Clinton are doing so in spite of her policy, not because of it.

That helps explain why her main argument -- with Thursday’s speech being a notable exception -- is policy-agnostic. She talks much more about Trump’s temperament and fitness to be commander-in-chief than his tax policy.

Even in Thursday’s speech, Clinton was careful to separate the GOP nominee from his party when criticizing the philosophy underlying his economic plan.

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“All he does offer is an even more extreme version of the failed theory of trickle-down economics, with the addition of his own unique Trumpian ideas -– outlandish ideas that even many Republicans reject,” Clinton said, even though Trump’s latest tax plan is reflective of conservative orthodoxy.

“I hope that after giving a fair hearing to both sides, you’ll join the millions of people across the country supporting our campaign –- not just Democrats, but a growing number of Republicans and Independents as well,” Clinton said.

Some liberals have been worried about what Clinton’s GOP outreach might mean for the concessions they fought for and won during the primary.

Clinton’s husband, Bill Clinton, famously tacked to the center to win over swing voters during the 1992 election, and he made a show of breaking with the left wing of his party by publicly condemning rapper Sista Souljah.

But the Democratic Party of 2016 is not the Democratic Party of 1992, and Donald Trump is not George H.W. Bush, the incumbent president Bill Clinton sought to defeat.

Meanwhile, Clinton doesn’t really need many Republican votes, since Democrats have won two presidential elections in a row on their own, giving the breakaway Republicans little leverage over Clinton.

Instead, Republicans are mainly valuable to Clinton as validators of her message to Independent voters, so she only needs a handful to publicly split with Trump.

But some nervous progressives, who still don’t fully trust Clinton, say the real test of her commitment will come in whom she appoints to her administration if she wins, starting with her transition team.

"In addition to laying out legislative goals, Secretary Clinton made personnel commitments throughout the primary process,” said Jeff Hauser, the director of the Revolving Door Project, which is working to keep corporate officials out of the next administration.