This is not, of course, a pure hypothetical.

She’s not advising China to do this (I think?), just using the example to underline the fact that Trump had zero moral or ethical qualms about using hacked material laundered through Wikileaks to his advantage in 2016. But really: If China had taken it upon themselves to hack Trump’s tax returns three years ago and put them online, what would she and the Democratic Party have done? Even if she made a point of not promoting the hacked material by commenting on it publicly, it would have been a national sensation. Democratic operatives would have eagerly exploited it on background with the media. The Resistance would have called it political malpractice *not* to exploit it given that Trump posed a unique threat to American democracy and needed to be defeated at all costs, yadda yadda. It’s fine and correct for her to note that POTUS is a plainly amoral creature but if Beijing hands the 2020 Democratic nominee a weapon that can be used as an electoral kill shot, that weapon will be used. And not just as payback for Russia’s hackings in 2016.

Anyway, Democrats don’t need to encourage China or Russia to do this. No doubt foreign governments will try, or possibly already have tried and succeeded, to dig up dirt on Trump for 2020. His tax returns are the holy grail given all of the public attention paid to them since 2015 but there are other avenues for uncovering information about his finances. New York State’s digital security for filed tax returns probably isn’t as good as the feds’. Deutsche Banc’s security may not be as good either. Remember that Russia had already successfully hacked the DNC and John Podesta by the time Trump famously called on Moscow to “find” Hillary’s missing emails; as sleazy as his half-joking public invitation to them was, they were way ahead of him. The deterrent to them doing this in 2020 isn’t Democrats withholding their approbation, it’s the risk that they’ll try to take Trump out with underhanded campaign interference and he’ll win anyway and then they’ll have to face his wrath. Russia assumed that risk with Hillary in 2016 and it paid off. I’m not sure either they or China would want to assume it with Trump, a far more mercurial character, in 2020.

There’s a deeper point here that Hillary doesn’t make, namely, that Trump and his staff were seemingly so indifferent to letting foreign chicanery hand them an advantage in 2016 that the invitation to Russia to “find” Hillary’s emails would have been implied even if Trump had never made it explicit. His enthusiasm on the trail in late 2016 for the Podesta material published by Wikileaks was proof enough to Russia that there’d be no consequences to them for having interfered in the campaign if he won. China surely remembers that, too. Trade war or no trade war, it’s probably more in their interest to go digging for dirt on the Democratic nominee in 2020 than on Trump, expecting that POTUS would receive that dirt as graciously as he would a proper campaign contribution. A Dem who got elected thanks to Chinese dirt on Trump might feel obliged to punish them regardless, if only to follow through on the party’s rhetoric since 2016 about how appalling foreign meddling in elections is, but Trump probably won’t. If anything, he might consider foreign interference on his behalf patriotic, an attempt to help Make America Great Again.

Given his sensitivity to having to share credit with Russia for the glorious victory of 2016, I wonder if it ever occurs to him that people might be less inclined to insist that he share credit if he hadn’t made that famous press-conference pitch on the trail about “finding” Hillary’s emails. Go figure that when you invite Russia to team up, your critics are more likely to see your win as a team effort. Exit question: If China did leak Trump’s tax returns in 2020, would any votes actually change? He’d deny that the documents were real, his fans would naturally believe him, and the haters would naturally believe the documents were authentic. What changes?