“There is no other Donald Trump,” Hillary Clinton likes to say about her opponent. “This is it.”
The events of the last two weeks—Trump’s two debate performances, the release of his bawdy comments about women in a 2005 video clip, his lashing out against Republicans who are deserting him—have proven Clinton correct on that count.
But the leak of thousands of hacked email exchanges among Clinton’s top advisers suggest the same can be said about her—at least in her role as a public figure. They capture a candidate, and a campaign, that seems in private exactly as cautious, calculating, and politically flexible as they appeared to be in public.
The Clinton campaign underestimated and then fretted about rival candidate Bernie Sanders, worried about Joe Biden entering the primary race and Elizabeth Warren endorsing her opponent, plotted endlessly about managing Clinton’s image in the press, took advantage of its close ties to the Obama administration and the hierarchy of the Democratic Party, and took public positions to the left of comments Clinton herself made during private paid speeches to Wall Street firms.
In fairness to Clinton, the emails made public by WikiLeaks reveal little about her as a person. These were hacked from the accounts of John Podesta, her campaign chairman, and very few of them are from Clinton herself. But they do shed light on Clinton as a candidate by showing just how carefully her closest aides crafted the message she presents to the world, down to the wording of her tweets and the jokes she does—or doesn’t—choose to tell.
How you react to the emails will almost certainly depend on how you already felt about Clinton. A diehard Bernie Sanders fan who sees Clinton as a corporate Democrat driven by expedience will find confirmation in her vacillation over what kind of Wall Street reform to support, her backing of the Bowles-Simpson plan that would have cut spending on entitlement programs, and her musing in a paid speech that “you need both a public and a private position” on policy. In mentioning the dual positions, she was making a comparison to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and the unsavory political machinations Honest Abe had to undertake to achieve ratification of the 13th Amendment.
Those who view Clinton as hopelessly liberal, craven, and corrupt will seize, as the Trump campaign has, on her stated “dream” of “a hemispheric common market with open trade and open borders.” They’ll smell conspiracy when they read hints that a Clinton campaign spokesman who formerly worked for the Justice Department got a heads up on a court hearing related to the release of her State Department emails. The Trump campaign said it was evidence of “collusion” between the campaign and the Justice Department, but notice of the hearing would have been public information.