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A Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

Lesson from the Podesta email leak: Clinton surrogates are eager to rule, but not very bright.

The WikiLeaks release of Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s emails has escalated the now months-long hyperventilation about the Russian hackers hiding under your bed. But try as Democratic Party elites might to distract from what’s actually in the leaks with cries of “Putin did it!”, people are paying notice to the revelations.

The emails offer a rare glimpse of the machinations of a modern political campaign. Here’s some of what we learned.

The Clinton campaign plotted to use gender and race against Bernie.
One of the themes of this year’s Democratic primaries was the weaponization of identity politics as a cudgel with which to beat Bernie Sanders’s message about inequality. The Podesta emails suggest this was a conscious strategy. One email from ex-Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau (not that Jon Favreau) urges the Clinton camp to continue perpetuating the idea of Sanders as a “single issue voter,” saying: “This idea that class is the only divide and economic issues are all that matter is a very white male centric view of the world (a Bernie Bro view, if you will).”

Another email from Labor Secretary Tom Perez suggested that a Clinton win in Nevada was a “real opportunity,” letting Clinton change the narrative from “Bernie kicks ass among young voters to Bernie does well only among young white liberals.”

Clinton thinks environmentalists should “get a life.”
Much has been made about the statement Clinton made in one of her paid speeches (itself a Podesta email revelation) that one needs “both a public and private” position when negotiating. It makes sense, then, that at the same time she was presenting herself as a climate crusader and scrubbing references to the Keystone pipeline from her memoir, she was telling the Building Trades Union that she would “defend natural gas,” “defend repairing and building the pipelines we need to fuel our economy,” and “defend fracking under the right circumstances.” She also had some choice words for those “radical environmentalists” supporting Bernie Sanders: “Get a life, you know.”

The DNC rigged the debate schedule for Clinton.
For many, the earlier DNC emails release proved their suspicions that the DNC had placed its thumb on the scales in favor of Clinton’s campaign, such as one email that showed DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz nixing a final debate between Clinton and Sanders. The latest release all but confirms it, with a briefing memo laying out discussions between the Clinton campaign and the DNC about the debate schedule, including the need to “limit the number of debates,” “start the debates as late as possible,” and “keep debates out of the busy window” between the Iowa caucuses and the South Carolina primary. At least the DNC failed to “eliminate the possibility of one on one debates,” as the memo had advocated.

Donna Brazile warned the campaign in advance about a debate question.
While she was the DNC vice chair, and before she became DNC interim chair in the wake of Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation, Donna Brazile was a pro-Clinton pundit who regularly appeared on CNN. While employed by the network, and one day before a televised town hall event it was hosting, Brazile sent the campaign an email titled “From time to time I get the questions in advance.”

Brazile passed on a debate question on the death penalty “that worries me about HRC,” which was identical to a question asked the next day at the town hall. Brazile has since denied doing anything wrong, alternating between suggesting the emails are doctored and complaining that “private emails were stolen from individuals.”

Jake Tapper, the CNN moderator of the town hall, called the revelation “very, very troubling.” We’d like to suggest to CNN a way to avoid something similar in the future: Just don’t hire paid party apparatchiks as contributors.

Neera Tanden advised the Clinton campaign to ignore the $15 minimum wage.
Clinton received plenty of criticism for hemming and hawing on the issue of the $15 minimum wage, even as the Fight for 15 movement gained momentum around the country. This position might have stemmed from her friend and Center for American Progress (CAP) director Neera Tanden, who suggested in early 2015 that the Clinton campaign ignore the issue.

“Substantively, we have not supported $15,” she replied to a query from Podesta about a series of economic policies. “You will get a fair amount of liberal economists who will say it will lose jobs.”

This was despite, as Clinton adviser Jake Sullivan noted, the support for the measure among the Democratic base — or “the Red Army” as he derisively termed them. Tanden went on help block a call for a $15 minimum wage in the Democratic platform.

John Podesta hates Bernie Sanders’s single-payer health-care proposal.
Speaking of bashing the Left, health care became a major issue in this year’s fight for the Democratic nomination, with Sanders proposing replacing Obamacare with a single-payer system and Clinton rubbishing the idea (which she once championed), saying it “will never, ever come to pass.”

In January, ThinkProgress editor Judd Legum alerted Podesta to the fact that such attacks were backfiring. “See it being fit into the she’s dishonest/will say anything to win frame,” he wrote. “[Sanders’s] actual proposal sucks, but we live in a leftie alternative universe,” grumbled Podesta.

It wasn’t the only time Clinton’s allies shook their fists at “lefties” over the issue. Five days earlier, at Podesta’s request, Tanden made ThinkProgress (the “editorially independent” offshoot of CAP) change a headline that called Clinton’s criticisms “dishonest.” “They are crazy leftists down there,” explained Tanden.

The campaign coordinated with the media relentlessly.
The chumminess between the Clinton campaign and the media was not limited to outlets funded by her friends. There is an army of liberal bloggers and journalists who have pushed for Clinton since the primaries, and the campaign was not hesitant to make use of them.

When one Clinton aide wondered which reporter could be relied on to push back on the media narrative about Clinton’s emails and hold other journalists accountable in the future, she was told “that person, the degree to which they exist, is Ezra Klein. And we can do it with him today.” One staffer mentioned working with writers like Jessica Valenti, Jamil Smith, and Sady Doyle on the topic of a “Bernie Backlash.” (Valenti denies working with the campaign in any respect.)

Another staffer claimed Clinton adviser Philippe Reines had “cultivated” Business Insider. In another email, Neera Tanden claimed that the campaign had “cultivated” a number of “brown and woman pundits” who could be used to “shame the times and others on social media” and defend Clinton, such as Joan Walsh, Perry Bacon, Jr., and, puzzlingly, Matthew Yglesias.

Clinton’s strategy was to build up the Trump campaign.
Upon pivoting to the general election, the Clinton campaign has largely eschewed a positive, affirmative vision in favor of stressing how much worse Donald Trump would be in office. “We cannot allow this man to become president,” her campaign recently tweeted. But back in the campaign’s early days, Trump was one of three “Pied Piper Candidates” — along with Ted Cruz and Ben Carson — the campaign planned on “elevating” so “they are leaders of the pack.”

“We don’t want to marginalize the more extreme candidates,” the memo strategy read, but “tell the press to [take] them seriously.” The Clinton camp hoped their rise to prominence would “move the more established candidates further to the right,” making the eventual nominee unelectable come November. Depending on the Trump campaign’s afterlife, the Clinton team may come to regret helping create this monster.

Aides knew Clinton wasn’t telling the truth about her bankruptcy bill vote.
Clinton’s 2001 vote for a bankruptcy bill (which as First Lady she opposed) that would have hurt poor families was briefly a flashpoint during the Democratic primaries, thanks to a twelve-year-old video that surfaced of Elizabeth Warren citing it as an example of the corrupting influence of money in politics. An outraged Clinton claimed in 2016 that she only supported the bill due to pressure from women’s groups, something one email thread shows her campaign staff knew was untrue. “We have a problem,” wrote one. “HRC overstayed [sic] her case this morning in a pretty big way.” As the staffer explained in a subsequent email: “She said women groups were all pressuring her to vote for it. Evidence does not support that statement.”

Union leaders maneuvered to help the campaign, swore revenge on its behalf.
A number of Podesta’s emails show the behind-the-scenes relationship between Clinton and some labor leaders. One email shows that Tom Buffenbarger, the now-retired international president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), moved the union board’s endorsement vote up months early to mid-August 2015, because he “didn’t want to wait” until 2016 to endorse Clinton.

Buffenbarger, who later joined Clinton’s campaign, did this without telling most of the IAM officers in order to make sure the plan succeeded. Later, Randi Weingarten, president of the Clinton-endorsing American Federation of Teachers, vowed to get back at National Nurses United in some way for its endorsement of Sanders. “We will go after NNU and there [sic] high and mighty sanctimonious conduct . . .” she wrote. It’s hard to know what’s more shocking: the threat, or the fact that the head of a teachers’ union doesn’t know the difference between “their” and “there.”

This piece originally stated that writer Jessica Valenti and others attended a meeting with the Clinton campaign. The email doesn’t make it clear if those listed attended a specific conference call or were simply listed as working with the campaign in general. Valenti denies doing both.