Friday 6 May 2016 4:45 am

US Presidential Election: Clinton doesn’t just need to beat Trump – she needs to jettison Sanders’ poisonous socialism

The votes are in – literally. Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, after his strongest competitor Ted Cruz dropped out of the race after a crushing defeat in the Indiana primary.

Democrat Bernie Sanders actually remains competitive with Hillary Clinton if you only look at the number of delegates each candidate has won in the states. But when super-delegates are factored in, Clinton pulls away with a strong lead that is likely to hand her the nomination.

So there we have it: the two most spineless candidates in the primaries will now compete for the White House.

Read more: Trump and Clinton edge towards White House

After months of focusing on who will win the primaries, we must now look at how they will win a general election. We know what Trump needs to do: become more palatable to a general audience (especially women), win back the 31 per cent of his party that say they would vote third party, vote Clinton, or stay home if he is the nominee, and present himself as a stately figure, whose brash, guttural tendencies are still on show, but toned down.

But what Trump will actually do is – as always – unpredictable and near impossible to guess.

Clinton’s moves in the general election may be more predictable, in the sense that we can always count on her inconsistency. As I noted a few weeks back, she will sing the praises of capitalism in the morning and hum the tune of socialism at night, as long as each move is a step in the direction of increasing her political capital. We are always assured that Hillary is looking out for Hillary.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger penned an op-ed about the “Clinton Pivot”. Analysing her victory speech after she swept four of the five states up for grabs in New England, Henninger noted that it moved away from her far-left impersonation of Sanders – which she adopted the past several months – and instead struck the tone of “the centrist Clinton coalition, circa 1996”.

Henninger predicts that, in the Age of Trump, Clinton will move away from the “Obama coalition of millennials, minorities and college-educated white women”, and reach out to the moderates, independents, and as she herself said, “thoughtful Republicans”.

I agree with Henninger that Clinton’s best bet now is to tack back to the centre. Even if voters don’t buy her change in rhetoric, her moderate streak is going to be far more convincing than Trump’s.

But what will be truly telling isn’t what agenda she puts forward in the election, but what long-term policies she actually adopts. Modern political history is not kind to presidents who enter into the third term of one party’s rule. Clinton isn’t just thinking about what promises will help her beat Trump in November. Even this early on, she will be thinking about what policies would shape a successful first term, and set her up to win a second.

Read more: Barack Obama mocks both Trump and Clinton

The obvious answer for long-term success, as Henninger notes as well, is to reignite the slowing US economy. This puts Clinton in a predicament: does she run on a platform of centrist, free-market reform that she knows would get the economy started again and give herself a shot at a second term and a legacy? Or does she continue to pander to Sanders’s camp, perhaps find herself in the Oval Office, but, at best, go down as a president no one wanted, but who at least wasn’t Trump?

Just imagine if the Clinton mantra of power-seeking and glory-hunting inadvertently jumpstarted the US economy again. It wouldn’t be the most inspiring story to come out of America, but on balance, I might consider it.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.