Democrats Put Hillary Clinton at Risk by Dismissing Benghazi Criticism

New poll finds the attack still hurts Clinton, and her allies are doing her no favors by pretending it’s a nonissue.

Hillary Clinton arrives to speak on September 12, 2012 on the killing of US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and 3 staff members at the US Consulate building in Benghazi, Libya, from the Treaty Room of the US Department of State, in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Alex Seitz-Wald
March 5, 2014, midnight

Demo­crats have ad­op­ted a dis­missive, al­most be­mused pos­ture when it comes to the con­ser­vat­ive fix­a­tion with the 2012 at­tack on the dip­lo­mat­ic out­post in Benghazi, Libya, con­fid­ent in the know­ledge that the facts bear little re­semb­lance to what they see as the Right’s con­spir­acy the­or­ies.

On one hand, they’re cor­rect. Count­less con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tee re­ports, ad­min­is­tra­tion probes, and journ­al­ist­ic in­vest­ig­a­tions have cleared then-Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton of any wrong­do­ing, and found there was little else the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion could have done once the at­tacks began. “Ghazi” has be­come short­hand for a par­tis­an-driv­en scan­dal.

But Demo­crats are in deni­al if they think Benghazi won’t be an is­sue in the 2016 pres­id­en­tial race, should Clin­ton run.

A new poll from Pew Re­search Cen­ter and USA Today shows the danger. When re­spond­ents were asked to name in their own words the biggest neg­at­ive for Clin­ton from her long ca­reer in pub­lic ser­vice, the most com­mon re­sponse was Benghazi. Sure, it’s only 15 per­cent who gave that an­swer, but that’s still a lot.

And it’s not just Re­pub­lic­ans; Demo­crats also picked it more of­ten than any­thing else, with 8 per­cent list­ing the at­tack as Clin­ton’s biggest neg­at­ive.

Just be­cause Demo­crats be­lieve there was noth­ing ne­far­i­ous about Clin­ton’s role in Benghazi doesn’t mean there are no grounds from which to cri­ti­cize her. Be­sides, they should have learned from “a gov­ern­ment takeover of health care” and “you didn’t build that” that bump­er-stick­er slo­gans can still de­liv­er blows. That’s polit­ics.

Re­spond­ents to the Pew sur­vey wer­en’t giv­en a list of op­tions to choose from, but had to vo­lun­teer their own an­swers — al­most 20 per­cent couldn’t come up with any neg­at­ive at all — and it’s not a good thing for Clin­ton that a plur­al­ity of voters had Benghazi on the top of their minds.

Bill Clin­ton and his dal­li­ances were the next most fre­quent an­swer, at 9 per­cent. The rest of the re­sponses — her party af­fil­i­ation, “gen­er­al dis­like,” “dis­hon­estly,” and “ca­reer politi­cian” — were offered by 2 per­cent or 3 per­cent of re­spond­ents each.

And you can bet that Re­pub­lic­ans will put Benghazi front and cen­ter if Clin­ton runs, says Tim Miller, the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of Amer­ica Rising, a Re­pub­lic­an su­per PAC ded­ic­ated to op­pos­i­tion re­search. While he ac­know­ledges that there’s been some “silly-sea­son” claims on Benghazi from his own side, “there is a cent­ral ar­gu­ment about com­pet­ence and pre­pared­ness that’s worth dis­cuss­ing.”

His group is work­ing on an “au­thor­it­at­ive tick­tock” of the at­tack based on ex­ist­ing sources, which he says will be used to raise dif­fi­cult ques­tions about Clin­ton and the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s hand­ling of events sur­round­ing the at­tack, from dip­lo­mat­ic se­cur­ity be­fore­hand to how the White House re­spon­ded af­ter­ward.

Clin­ton’s ten­ure at the State De­part­ment is one of her biggest as­sets, as the Pew poll clearly shows. But just 12 per­cent vo­lun­teered it as the most pos­it­ive as­pect of her ca­reer, slightly few­er than those who cited Benghazi as the most neg­at­ive.

It would be polit­ic­al mal­prac­tice for Re­pub­lic­ans to leave her ten­ure at State un­ques­tioned, and Benghazi rep­res­ents the clearest way for them to go after Clin­ton’s biggest strength. “The over­throw of [Muam­mar] Qad­dafi is seen as one of her sig­na­ture ac­com­plish­ments,” Miller notes of the former Liby­an dic­tat­or.

Benghazi un­der­mines one of Clin­ton’s key mes­sages, says Katie Pack­er Gage, who was Mitt Rom­ney’s deputy cam­paign man­ager in 2012 and re­cently star­ted a con­sult­ing firm aimed at help­ing Re­pub­lic­ans per­form bet­ter with fe­male voters. “When she ran last time, she made the case that she was the one who could take that 3:00 a.m. phone call. Well, that 3:00 a.m. phone call came for her, from Benghazi, and I’m not sure that was a par­tic­u­larly strong mo­ment for her as sec­ret­ary of State,” Gage says.

Demo­crats point out that the at­tack didn’t seem to cause Pres­id­ent Obama much harm dur­ing the 2012 elec­tion, even though it was much fresh­er in people’s minds then. And they ar­gue that the Re­pub­lic­an ob­ses­sion with the at­tack could back­fire when they over­reach, as House Over­sight Com­mit­tee Chair­man Dar­rell Issa has while try­ing to tie Clin­ton to Benghazi.

Be­sides, it’s only 15 per­cent of re­spond­ents, they say. “Un­like many in the GOP who re­main ob­sessed with point­ing fin­gers, Sec­ret­ary Clin­ton im­me­di­ately put policies in­to place to en­sure this tragedy nev­er oc­curs again,” says Ad­rienne El­rod, the com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or of Cor­rect the Re­cord, a Demo­crat­ic su­per PAC. “This poll shows that the GOP’s re­lent­less at­tempts to politi­cize a tragedy aren’t work­ing and that a ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans don’t buy it.”

But in a tight race, 15 per­cent might be something Clin­ton needs to ser­i­ously worry about. It might be­hoove her al­lies to stop laugh­ing at it.

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
When It Comes to Mining Asteroids, Technology Is Only the First Problem
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Obama Reflects on His Economic Record
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Reagan Families, Allies Lash Out at Will Ferrell
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."

Source:
PEAK CONFIDENCE
Clinton No Longer Running Primary Ads
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-ex­pec­ted primary battle be­hind her, former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton (D) is no longer go­ing on the air in up­com­ing primary states. “Team Clin­ton hasn’t spent a single cent in … Cali­for­nia, In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Ore­gon and West Vir­gin­ia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “cam­paign has spent a little more than $1 mil­lion in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone back­er in the Sen­ate, said the can­did­ate should end his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign if he’s los­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton after the primary sea­son con­cludes in June, break­ing sharply with the can­did­ate who is vow­ing to take his in­sur­gent bid to the party con­ven­tion in Phil­adelphia.”

Source:
CITIZENS UNITED PT. 2?
Movie Based on ‘Clinton Cash’ to Debut at Cannes
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."

Source:
×