This cycle has produced plenty of instances of campaign surrogates not helping. Like when Ben Carson said, in defense of Donald Trump, “Are there better people? Probably.” Or when Rick Santorum touted Marco Rubio’s achievements in the Senate by telling MSNBC, “I guess it’s hard to say they’re accomplishments.” Or when Dr. Paul Song decided to help Bernie Sanders boost his campaign’s feminist credentials by calling his opponents “corporate Democratic whores.”
But last night, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe set a new standard for terrible spokespersonship. At a convention where a rogue faction of Bernie Sanders delegates refuses to believe in the authenticity of Hillary Clinton’s concessions to the left, where delegates for both candidates tend to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the chant “No TPP” is peppered through all proceedings, McAuliffe decided to reassure voters Tuesday night that Clinton secretly supports the trade agreement and will sign it with minor tweaks as soon as she gets this election thing over with. Per Politico:
“I worry that if we don’t do TPP, at some point China’s going to break the rules – but Hillary understands this,” he said in an interview after his speech on the main stage at the Democratic National Convention. “Once the election’s over, and we sit down on trade, people understand a couple things we want to fix on it but going forward we got to build a global economy.”
Pressed on whether Clinton would turn around and support the trade deal she opposed during the heat of the primary fight against Bernie Sanders, McAuliffe said: “Yes. Listen, she was in support of it. There were specific things in it she wants fixed.”
Expressing skepticism about trade deals on the campaign trail — and then pushing for more once in office — is a bipartisan tradition in American politics. In the 2008 primary, Obama was a fierce critic of NAFTA. But as president, he’s taken no action to “renegotiate” that deal, while making the TPP one of the top priorities of his second term.
Earlier in the campaign, Clinton indicated that she could support TPP with a set of specific changes. And one could argue that this is the same position that staunch TPP opponents Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren hold. Both senators do not claim to oppose opening up trade relations in principle. But the changes that they demand — parity in labor standards between trading partners for Sanders, the abolition of the investor-state dispute settlement process for Warren — would subvert the paradigm that all modern trade deals have been written under.
Donald Trump, and Clinton’s left-wing critics, found affirmation in McAuliffe’s remarks.