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Markos Moulitsas: Clinton’s push to the left

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Republicans are stuck with a clown car of a presidential primary, full of candidates that no one wants or loves. For all their talk of a “deep bench,” the reality is that no candidate can break out of the mid-teens in early polling. They’re all benchwarmers — there’s no star.

In fact, few Republican candidates, if any, can even match the support that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is getting in the sleepy Democratic primary contest. And he’s supposed to be the fringe candidate. 

{mosads}Yet, while one of the Republicans will eventually win the party’s nomination — someone has to win, right? — Sanders will never seriously challenge Hillary Clinton. But for those who love and respect the iconoclastic senator from Vermont, that shouldn’t be a source of distress. The Democratic Party — Clinton included — is now far closer on the issues to Sanders than the Wall Street corporatists that ruled the party just a few short cycles ago. 

Indeed, while Sanders can legitimately claim unwavering commitment to a progressive agenda, Clinton’s adaptations have better positioned her with the modern Democratic Party — not just on the economic populism that dominates the national debate but, particularly, on the issues that animate the party’s increasingly diverse base. 

In fact, while Clinton has staked out strongly liberal positions on immigration and the “black lives matter” movement, Sanders inexplicably failed to mention those two key issues in his announcement speech, issues that are now pillar planks of the Democratic coalition, alongside income inequality and global climate change. 

To be crystal clear, the problem wasn’t Sanders’s bona fides on those issues; his record shows consistent support for both immigration and criminal justice system reform. Rather, it was the sense that he didn’t think to mention them in such a critical address. 

They certainly aren’t issues that have driven the debate in any of his previous elections, and their omission serves as a painful reminder as to the last Vermonter to give a presidential bid a shot. Former Gov. Howard Dean also had a tough time garnering support beyond white college-educated liberals in 2004. 

Clinton has always been strong on issues of importance to key constituencies in the Democratic base. Her rhetoric on immigration has lit up the Latino community, a demographic that stuck with her in 2008, even as Barack Obama consolidated support elsewhere. And regardless of 2008, she and her husband have always had good relations with the African-American community. Still, Clinton’s populist credentials are suspect (to put it mildly) to a significant swath of the party base — even many who support her.

One media report said Clinton’s campaign was “frightened” of Sanders’s effort, not because he could win but because he could paint her as a centrist or corporatist, thus bleeding Democrats of the support they will need up and down the ballot in November 2016.

That fear is justified — and it’s good that Sanders is fueling it. The more he presses the former secretary of State on issues like the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and breaking up too-big-to-fail banks, the more likely she’ll be to clearly stake out populist positions. 

Not only does full-throated populism sell in the Democratic Party, it’s popular among the general electorate as well. Clinton has already gotten closer to Sanders on economic issues than would’ve seemed possible even a few short years ago. If she wants a strong, unified party heading into the general election, she’ll let Sanders help her close the remaining gap. 

Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of Daily Kos.

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