Why Benghazi is a perfect political storm for Republicans

May 10, 2013

Amid the ongoing uncertainty swirling in Washington about who knew what when in regards to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on Benghazi, Libya that left four Americans dead, one thing has become crystal clear: Benghazi isn't going away as a political issue any time soon.


A storm. Maybe a perfect one.

Why?  Because, wherever you come down on the policy debate surrounding the attack, the politics of demanding more information and answers about what happened are an absolute slam dunk for Republicans seeking to show their base a willingness to hold President Obama accountable.

It's a sort of perfect political storm for the Republican base.  And GOP politicians -- particularly those with an eye on bolstering their conservative bona fides in advance of contested primaries -- know it well.

To wit:

* In an op-ed in USA Today, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a leading contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, was critical of how the Obama Administration has handled the investigation to date. Wrote Rubio: "Instead of ensuring that these terrible events are not repeated, the White House and its allies seem more interested in accusing those seeking answers of playing politics than getting to the bottom of what happened that night."

* Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, himself a likely 2016 candidate, penned a piece in the Washington Times slamming former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her role in the Benghazi attacks. "The new evidence we have today — and that continues to mount — suggests that at the very least, Mrs. Clinton should never hold high office again," wrote Paul.

* South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is one of a handful of Republican incumbents targeted by conservatives for defeat in a 2014 GOP primary, drew huge applause last weekend at the state GOP convention when he told the crowd "hell no I'm not gonna let this go!" in relation to the Benghazi investigation.

The simple fact is that Republican base voters not only dislike President Obama but have a deep distrust of how his Administration handles virtually all of its business. Not only is Benghazi a confluence of both of those realities but it also involved Clinton, who is widely regarded as the frontrunner to be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016 if she decides to run.

Whether Benghazi has staying power as an issue all the way until average voters start paying attention to the presidential race sometime in 2015 (or early 2016) is anyone's guess. And much depends on whether Republicans can use the accountability argument to raise broader questions about Obama's (and, by inference, Democrats') commitment to transparency and competence.

For the foreseeable future -- at least -- expect to hear a lot more about Benghazi both on Capitol Hill and in places like Iowa (where Rand Paul is visiting), New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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