“She’s never been a great candidate, OK?"

“It sounds crazy, but I think she simply wasn’t equipped to deal with all this,” says one longtime ally who has been in regular contact with Clinton. “She’s never been a great candidate, OK? She needed time and campaigns don’t give you time. … She was blindsided, and I think only now, after all this crap, is she finally in the right headspace.”

Nearly every one of 50 advisers, donors, Democratic operatives and friends we interviewed for this story thought Clinton was a mediocre candidate who would make a good president, if given the chance. They painted a portrait of a politician who talked about learning from past mistakes while methodically repeating them—a far cry from the formidable shatterer of glass ceilings who had put such a scare into Obama late in the 2008 primaries.

One longtime Clinton family adviser called the emails a “cancer” on her campaign. Another told us, “She’s her own worst enemy.” And many described moments of anxiety as Clinton, backed up by the protective firewall of her legal team, refused to take full personal responsibility even to her own aides. “I have done nothing wrong,” she repeatedly told them…

Hillary Clinton is a hard woman to counsel during a crisis. She is at times warm, at times withering—when staffers offer excuses, her favorite rejoinder is “shoulda, woulda, coulda!”—and she’s prone to fretting that her staff doesn’t have her back.