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Is Hillary Clinton the next Mitt Romney?

Story highlights

  • S.E. Cupp: Hillary Clinton met with Goldman execs, investors, brought reassuring message
  • She says that's at odds with progressive stance of Warren, Obama. How will it play to left?
  • She says Clinton courting progressives too; may have trouble reconciling two camps
  • Cupp: Clinton could end up like Romney: out of touch wih 'little people,' mouthing 90s rhetoric

Big banks have found few political friends in recent years. Excoriated by President Barack Obama and progressive Democrats like Elizabeth Warren for their "greedy" policies, rejected by Tea Party conservatives for being too cozy with Washington, and even seemingly scolded by Pope Francis in his Evangelii Gaudium last month, it's almost as if Wall Street has been sent to the woodshed.

And after the 2012 presidential election, it's not hard to understand why no one wants to appear too comfortable with the "plutocracy." Many have argued that Mitt Romney's Bain Capital pedigree and his comments at the Boca Raton, Florida, home of private equity manager Marc Leder about the "47%" helped tank his campaign. Fate sealed: Romney-the-plutocrat was cooked.

But perhaps the big banks have found an unlikely new ally: Hillary Clinton.

An article in Politico Magazine this week, one that elicited little response from Democrats, recounted Clinton's recent remarks to Goldman Sachs executives and a few hundred major investors, seemingly to reassure them that she didn't think the banks were all bad.

S.E. Cupp

According to the story (ironically headlined, "Lament of the Plutocrats"):

"...Clinton offered a message that the collected plutocrats found reassuring, according to accounts offered by several attendees, declaring that the banker-bashing so popular within both political parties was unproductive and indeed foolish. Striking a soothing note on the global financial crisis, she told the audience, in effect: We all got into this mess together, and we're all going to have to work together to get out of it. What the bankers heard her to say was just what they would hope for from a prospective presidential candidate: Beating up the finance industry isn't going to improve the economy -- it needs to stop. And indeed Goldman's Tim O'Neill, who heads the bank's asset management business, introduced Clinton by saying how courageous she was for speaking at the bank. (Brave, perhaps, but also well-compensated: Clinton's minimum fee for paid remarks is $200,000)."

    It's hard to imagine how this will square with Obama's renewed progressive, middle-class agenda for Democrats. According to the White House, raising the minimum wage and lessening income inequality will be major parts of Obama's 2014 domestic plan -- as well as his State of the Union address and budget.

    More problematic is how Hillary Clinton's bighearted rhetoric toward Wall Street will accord with Democrats generally. You don't have to go to Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts or Bill de Blasio in Manhattan; it isn't hard to find a Democrat, be they union machinist, single mom, or Wal-Mart cashier, who wants to punish the banks and weaken their influence in politics and everything else we do.

    Hardest of all to figure is how this will square with Clinton herself. Since leaving the State Department, she's made concerted (and some would argue necessary) efforts at rebranding herself as more progressive, speaking on voting rights, women's issues, and gay rights.

    In a recent New Republic piece by Noam Scheiber titled "Hillary's Nightmare? A Democratic Party that Realizes its Soul Lies with Elizabeth Warren," the writer describes Clinton's hard left turn this way: "she recently used the word 'progressive' so many times in a single speech it was tempting to describe her condition as 'severe.'"

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    Indeed, is Clinton in danger of becoming the next Mitt Romney? Heir(ess) to the throne, the natural front-runner, but out of touch with "the little people," stuck in the rhetoric -- and passé politicking -- of the 1990s?

    I talked to several Democratic strategists who were incredulous that Clinton cozied up to the bankers, and wondered how long it would take for progressive groups -- or Republicans -- to jump on it. Her bizarre tryst with Goldman and friends, and her nurturing message to them, doesn't only put her to the right of progressive superstars like Warren and DeBlasio -- and to the right of Obama, and to the right of most Democratic voters -- but also to the right of many anti-bank, populist conservatives.

    That's tough -- and odd -- territory for Hillary Clinton to stake out in the run-up to a presidential election. But will Democrats hold her accountable? Or will she get a pass because she's (sigh) Hillary? Elizabeth Warren, where are you?

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