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Clinton Saves the Theatrics for Later

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Hillary Clinton has stuck close to Barack Obama throughout her presidential campaign, but at the Democratic debate in Brooklyn on Thursday night, she practically dragged a cardboard cutout of the president on stage with her. 

Her performance was par for her course. Strategic: Obama is wildly popular in New York and among Democrats in general, and he has moved slightly above water in national approval polls among voters. Methodical: She follows her plan to the letter, and if it calls for invoking Obama at every opportunity, she's not going to miss that chance.

Clinton took no risks at this debate, and really hasn't throughout the campaign. Nor has she shown any sign of leaving even an inch between herself and the bulk of her party. If the Democrats ratchet up what they believe is possible on minimum wage, Clinton shifts with them.

This is positioning guaranteed to frustrate many pundits. But it's also a good way to win a presidential nomination.

Bernie Sanders continues to push Clinton to take positions moving her further away from the swing voters she'll need in November, but I see little sign he is succeeding. She has shifted closer to embracing a $15 minimum wage -- although she is still vague on the details. It has always been popular with voters (even as many liberal economists who support a relatively big minimum wage increase are concerned that $15 could be too high, too fast). Clinton also supports expanding a liberal plan to expand Social Security, financed by some form of taxes on rich people, but that idea too is likely popular with swing voters as well as the Democratic base.

Clinton has maintained a steady lead in New York polling, and a victory there on Tuesday will quiet, for a while at least, talk of Sanders momentum. In fact, neither candidate has had much real momentum throughout the race. What has mattered most are the demographic profiles of the electorate in each primary or caucus rather than the effects of the most recent contest or event.

It's clear Sanders will stick around at least through the final primaries on June 7, although Clinton will have a large enough delegate lead that she should be able to organize the Democratic National Convention whether he endorses her on June 8 or waits until the delegates gather and vote in Philadelphia. We may see more debates, too.

But this race was settled a long time ago, and it hasn't done much serious damage to Clinton, beyond whatever liabilities she brought to the campaign in the first place. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net