Progressive leaders are still hoping to force likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to the left, but a party insider said Thursday she’s rapidly losing interest in accommodating any more demands from Sen. Bernard Sanders and his followers.
The insider, who requested anonymity, said the struggles of presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump give Mrs. Clinton far more room to maneuver, leaving her less beholden to the liberal voters who backed Mr. Sanders.
That could leave her on a collision course with progressives, who are still pressing for Mrs. Clinton to drift further toward Mr. Sanders’ positions on everything from a national $15 minimum wage to stiffer action on climate change.
“The real issues are finally on the table. Expanding Social Security. A $15 minimum wage. Single-payer health care, tuition- and debt-free public college, and reining in Wall Street. Dozens of other common sense ideas, on everything from racial justice and ending mass incarceration to ending fossil fuel subsidies to combat climate change, to 12 weeks of paid family leave, to pursuing diplomacy over war,” Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn. Org Political Action, said this week.
His organization has formally backed Mr. Sanders, and he and other progressive leaders say the energy within the Democratic Party is coming from their side, not from the center — and so the party should move in that direction.
That means upending the Democratic National Committee’s hold on power, and changing the presidential nomination process’s reliance on superdelegates ahead of 2020, Sanders supporters say.
On policy, it also means Mrs. Clinton would have to drift further left than she’s been willing to go so far. But Clinton supporters say the former first lady must walk a tight rope between courting hard-core progressives and turning off moderates.
“I think she will need to find ways to find common cause on policy with Sen. Sanders and his supporters. She is going to need them in November. But she can’t allow them to push her so far to the left that it becomes a liability in November,” said Clinton backer Jim Manley, director of the communications practice at QGA Public Affairs and former spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
Indeed, the Democratic Party insider told the Washington Times Mrs. Clinton now is “going home” to her “neoconservative ways” and no longer is interested in chasing the affection of Sanders-supporting liberals.
“Everything in the Clinton campaign is driven by polls,” said the source. “The degree to which Trump has slumped is the degree to which Bernie has lost his bargaining power and Hillary is going to do whatever the hell she wants.”
In a video address posted on his campaign website Thursday evening, Mr. Sanders acknowledged that his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination was coming to an end, but vowed that his far-left political revolution would continue.
Mr. Sanders promised to work with Mrs. Clinton but stopped short of endorsing her, attempting to strengthen his bargaining power at the party’s July convention in Philadelphia.
“Election days come and go. But political and social revolutions that attempt to transform our society never end. They continue every day, every week and every month in the fight to create a nation of social and economic justice,” Mr. Sanders said.
Far from rallying his followers behind Mrs. Clinton, he beseeched them to remain true to the cause and keep pushing his agenda for a $15 minimum wage, for free college tuition, for breaking up Wall Street banks and for an illegal-immigrant amnesty.
Should Mrs. Clinton decide to tweak policy positions though, there are several appealing areas.
On the minimum wage, for example, Mrs. Clinton has supported a $12-an-hour national standard, while Mr. Sanders has promoted a $15-an-hour rate. While Mrs. Clinton has said she’d sign a federal $15-an-hour bill if certain conditions — such as a gradual phase-in period — were included, making the issue a centerpiece of her economic platform would ingratiate her with progressives.
Mrs. Clinton also has room to move on climate change. The former secretary of state has vowed to invest heavily in clean energy if elected president, but she doesn’t support an outright ban on the oil-and-gas drilling technique known as fracking.
Mr. Sanders supports a full ban on fracking, while Mrs. Clinton merely has said she’d institute tougher regulations on the practice — which she said could get to the same goal.
Mrs. Clinton also could make Social Security expansion a more prominent part of her domestic agenda. After extensive pressure from the Sanders campaign, Mrs. Clinton earlier this year promised to oppose any and all cuts to the entitlement program — a move progressives hailed as a major victory.
Her platform calls for expanding Social Security “for those who need it,” but she hasn’t zeroed in on entitlement expansion in the way Mr. Sanders has, and doing so surely would go a long way toward satisfying Democrats looking for a more progressive agenda.
The stakes attached to Mrs. Clinton’s policy evolution go beyond simply bringing Sanders backers on board, liberal leaders say. They argue that Republican Donald Trump has the opportunity to capture frustrated Democrats who are drawn to economic populism, and that Mrs. Clinton must actively work to keep those voters in the fold.
“We cannot afford to get outflanked by Donald Trump on economic populist issues,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the liberal advocacy group the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “If the Democratic Party is keeping the volume high on big economic populist ideas like debt-free college and expanding Social Security benefits, that will serve Democrats well in November. If the volume goes down and Trump is keeping the volume high, we’ll lose those voters.”