There is a long tradition of Democratic presidential candidates posturing against free trade on the stump only to reverse themselves in office. Hillary Clinton’s announcement today that she opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership would seem to fit snugly within that tradition. After all, Barack Obama promised to renegotiate NAFTA once in office but never did. (Indeed, in a private memo that surfaced during the 2008 campaign, an Obama adviser reassured fretful Canada that Obama’s posturing against NAFTA was not to be taken seriously.)
But Clinton’s opposition to TPP is a little different, because she served as secretary of State during the treaty negotiations and never registered her dissent. Indeed, she praised the agreement over and over and over, even calling it “the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field.” Now Clinton has repudiated a treaty with which she has closely associated herself.
She has framed her opposition in carefully hedged terms that leave her multiple escape avenues. “As of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it,” she said, going on to add, “I don’t believe it’s going to meet the high bar I have set.” Is anybody going to believe that she will actually oppose the treaty as president? Sure, she might slightly mollify some supporters in labor, who would like cover to support her candidacy even though they disagree on the agreement. But she will also do more damage to her overall credibility and reputation for conviction — which happens to be the biggest single problem she faces right now.
Update: White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest points out that Obama did negotiate trade agreements in Nafta:
In the context of TPP, this is a promise made/promise. In fact, I noted this in the briefing the other day. At the time, most people thought that the President could never fulfill that promise - but both Canada and Mexico are part of TPP and signed onto higher, enforceable labor standards and higher, enforceable environmental standards. That’s exactly what the President promised to do and is actually a key selling point we make to D’s about why they should support TPP.