What Clinton Could Learn From Canada's Trudeau

Michelle Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Barack Obama recognize Trudeau's mother, Margaret, during a White House state dinner on March 10. Trudeau's victory last fall could offer some lessons for Hillary Clinton. Joshua Roberts/REUTERS

The new golden boy of international politics, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, spoke at a luncheon in Washington, D.C., Friday about the blueprint behind his Liberal Party's groundbreaking victory in Canada last fall. And Hillary Clinton might want to go review the transcript, stat. Obliquely, Trudeau tackled many of the issues now roiling the American electorate and laid out, in much more compelling terms than any American politician has, a progressive argument for governing.

"The core of the message that we put forward…was the recognition that the middle class was stalled," Trudeau said in a Q&A with Neera Tanden, president of the left-leaning Center for American Progress. In response, Trudeau's party proposed a number of different policies, including a tax break for the middle class (paid for by a tax increase on the wealthiest 1 percent), expanded benefits for families with children and an infrastructure investment program.

But on top of those familiar policy goals Trudeau also pitched an inclusive vision of prosperity that is the antithesis of the wall building of people like Republican front-runner Donald Trump, embracing globalization and diversity and welcoming 25,000 Syrian refugees.

"If there's a rise of people being angry and willing to point fingers at others… you can't just tell them they're wrong, you have to look at why that anxiety is there," Trudeau said.

"People are worried that the deal that's been made with governments of different stripes over the past few decades—that people would support pro-growth policies, tax competitiveness, fiscal responsibility, global investment, trade—these things would be good for growth, and they would be good for everyone. And unfortunately, we've gotten a certain amount of growth, but people are wondering…Where is the growth for me?"

The answer is to offer solutions that convince people "we can get out of the challenges you're facing if we pull together." With the Syrian refugees, for example, Trudeau told Canadians that it wasn't just about doing the right thing vis-à-vis the international community. Instead, he said, it's about "strengthening our communities, bringing in more families who can…build and create."

"I have to say, even our right wing hasn't been overly fear-generating around this or opposed to it," he noted. (Of course, Canada doesn't have a right-wing equivalent of Trump.)

Trudeau said he also made a concerted effort during the election to avoid negative campaigning. "It's not that we're not going to respond," he explained to supporters, "but we're going to respond in the right way." That meant asking, "Was there a way of getting something that works, that wasn't a negative attack?"

It's a question that Trump's opponents in the Republican primary are still trying to figure out. Florida Senator Marco Rubio can certainly tell you that stooping to Trump's level with school yard taunts hasn't worked.

Granted, Canada is not the United States, with its superpower status, a much more complex history of racial divisions and a campaign season that lasts far longer and costs hundreds of millions more. A progressive presidential candidate running in America has a far bigger set of minefields than a would-be prime minister in Canada.

Nonetheless, there are some similarities, which Trudeau framed eloquently on Friday. As he put it, "The story of our country, like the story of this country, is one of people seeking better opportunities for themselves. And that work's not finished yet." Clinton might want to steal that line.