Hillary Clinton and the Sanders effect
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Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonStopping Robert Mueller to protect us all Hillary Clinton hits Trump, pulls out Russian hat during Yale speech Giuliani: Mueller plans to wrap up Trump obstruction probe by Sept. 1 MORE has once again made headlines for a dramatic policy shift, publicly declaring her opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).  This came as a surprise, given her prior support for the controversial trade agreement during her tenure as Secretary of State.  No less than 45 times, she has advocated for the agreement, stating that it would create more jobs and a stronger economy. 

Clinton’s critics wasted no time in coloring her switch as yet another flip-flop. Her supporters defend her change of heart as evidence that she is open-minded and willing to champion the views of her base, a majority of whom are opposed to the TPP.  I believe there is another cause, a cause in the form of a certain senator from Vermont. 

Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersHarvard law professor: Impeachment could worsen political dysfunction, polarization Gun control debate shifts to hardening schools after Texas shooting Bernie Sanders: NRA to blame for lack of action on gun control MORE (I) has rapidly gained ground in the polls, attracting massive crowds and giving pause to the naysayers who scoffed only a few months ago at his chance of winning the Democratic nomination.  Sanders has a populist anti-establishment message that resonates with an electorate that grows increasingly frustrated with the ever-expanding gap between rich and poor Americans.  Hillary Clinton is a savvy politician, and has undoubtedly noticed that more and more progressive voters are beginning to #feelthebern.

On the Republican side of the campaign trail, we’ve seen GOP candidates attempt to compete with Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpJuan Williams: Trump gives life to the left Kennedy retirement rumors shift into overdrive Pompeo to outline post-deal strategy on Iran MORE’s bombastic popularity by making outrageous statements, then doubling down on them when criticized.  This phenomenon has been dubbed the “Trump effect.”  Clinton’s about-face on the TPP can likewise be considered the “Sanders effect.” 

This isn’t Clinton’s only recent move from center to left.  Like President Obama, Clinton has “evolved” on gay marriage.  Her stance has softened on a number of other issues, ranging from the for-profit prison system, to immigration, to the Iraq War, which she has long been criticized for supporting.   

We are witnessing a change in the mood of the Democratic base.  The socially liberal but fiscally conservative neoliberalism of the 1990’s is going out of style as the party shifts increasingly to the left.  This presents a problem for Hillary, as the name of Clinton is virtually synonymous with neoliberal policy.  Former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonTrump, taxpayers want Title X funding protected from abortion clinics President Trump’s historic rescissions package is a welcome step to cut wasteful spending America will be stronger with our immigration policy based on facts MORE presided over a booming economy, and his presidency is generally looked upon favorably by Democrats.  It’s quite surprising to see Clinton having to distance herself from her husband’s policies in order to match the more progressive values of today’s Democrats.    

Hillary Clinton’s supporters point out that her long-term liberal record predates the corporate-friendly democratic principles she has espoused in recent years.  They claim that as Clinton edges ever closer to the left, she reclaims her true political ideals, not having been able to act on them during the previous political climate.  This is not far from the truth.  Clinton has a documented progressive record on many issues, however, her more recent positions have quite a few Democrats viewing her as too close to the center for comfort. 

Whether or not Sanders can win the nomination is up for debate, but there is no doubt that his popularity has shifted the political discourse to the left.  If Clinton is to win the Democratic nomination, she needs to distinguish herself from the Wall Street-friendly image of her husband, in favor of the Main Street-friendly image exemplified by Sanders.  In other words, she needs to capitalize on the Sanders effect.  

Eckhardt is an Army veteran and creator of the non- partisan political blog, The Illusion of Choice.