By Robert Schlesinger |
Hillary Clinton had had enough. When Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin questioned her about why diplomats who did get out of Benghazi safely were not interviewed immediately, she exploded.
"With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans," said Clinton, pounding her fist for emphasis. "Was it because of a protest or because of guys out on a walk one night who decided they'd go kill Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator."
What difference does it make? Quite a bit, actually. First, she presents two scenarios we all know to be false. This was no protest of a film and these were not "guys out on a walk one night who decided they'd go kill Americans."
This was, in fact, a failure of Clinton's State Department to respond to several warnings from key diplomat Christopher Stevens—one just hours before he was killed in the attack—that American defenses of the facility were inadequate.
Let's remember why Hillary Clinton became the 67th secretary of state. From the moment it became clear she would lose out to Barack Obama for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, her husband and the entirety of the Democratic Party have tried to put her on a glide path to become president when Obama left office. Before Benghazi, her tenure at State had done nothing but enhance her chances. She is still wildly popular—67 percent viewed her favorably in a recent poll—and she is seen as a loyal and dogged member of the president's cabinet.
But it's been tough sledding since that attack on Sept. 11, 2012. There have been health concerns, a concussion, repeated instances in which scheduled appearances before Congress were postponed for various reasons. Wednesday's long-awaited appearances before House and Senate committees featured only more bobbing, weaving, and, finally, what could be construed as faux outrage directed at Johnson.
None of this closes the circle on Benghazi. None of it explains the wholly inadequate security or the dismal watch-while-Americans-die performance of her agency that night. And none delivers on her promise to find out how to prevent this from happening again. She's lucky no member in either session subjected her to the grilling this incident surely deserves.
What we have now is a hapless filmmaker in jail for a year on trumped up charges. We have Hillary exiting the public stage to plot her return in two years as, according to all her friends in the media, the odds-on favorite to succeed Obama. And we have a lot of questions about how four loyal Americans lost their lives.
Those questions should have been answered Wednesday—as far from the 2016 election as possible. Now, if Republicans have any clue how to win—which is debatable—those questions will be answered in the crucible of a campaign. The spin for today, that her legacy at State remains largely intact, is mostly correct. But her chances at becoming president could still take a hit.
About Ford O'Connell Republican Strategist, Conservative Activist, and Political Analyst
Jamie Chandler Political Scientist at Hunter College