Opinion writer

The internets are abuzz this morning with the news that another Republican has been dangerously candid about the true nature of the House Benghazi investigation:

In an interview with WIBX 950 in New York on Wednesday, moderate Republican Rep. Richard Hanna said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was speaking the truth when he said this month that the committee had successfully injured Clinton. 

“Sometimes the biggest sin you can commit in D.C. is to tell the truth,” Hanna told the upstate New York radio station. “This may not be politically correct, but I think that there was a big part of this investigation that was designed to go after people and an individual, Hillary Clinton.”

Such an admission, of course, is not on the level of the one coming from McCarthy, who is a member of the leadership. That said, Rep. Hanna went significantly further than McCarthy did. McCarthy merely boasted that the probe had driven down Clinton’s numbers, but he stopped short of saying that this was the actual rationale for the investigation. Hanna explicitly says here that the probe was designed to “go after” Clinton.

But how much will this matter?

The Clinton campaign pounced on Hanna’s remarks, and you can bet that they will soon end up in a Clinton ad (helpfully, there is audio) just as McCarthy’s did. Now that Clinton has turned in a very solid performance at this week’s Democratic debate, there is a lot of anticipation that she will now push back very effectively on Republicans prosecuting the Benghazi probe when she testifies on October 22nd. This new Hanna admission, along with McCarthy’s remarks, gives her more ammo.

That said, as James Hohmann and Dan Balz point out, Clinton is hardly home free here in terms of questions about her trustworthiness, because we still don’t know what further email revelations lurk out there. Democrats would be foolish not to recognize this. And as I’ve argued, the danger to Clinton may not be just that the email story is making her look untrustworthy, but that it raises doubts about her competence.

I would also add that there is something more complicated going on in terms of how the Clinton camp is responding to this probe than is commonly acknowledged. It isn’t just that Clinton is using the new GOP quotes to tar it as a partisan exercise and attack its credibility, though that is a key goal. The Clinton camp is seeking to turn the investigation to her advantage in another way, by casting it as another in a series of trials and tribulations that she must overcome to earn the top job. The idea is to turn the ongoing Benghazi battle with Republicans into an emblem of her willingness to fight on in the face of determined opposition — thus playing to one of her strengths, i.e., perceptions of her tenaciousness.

Clinton’s remarks at Tuesday’s debate confirm this:

“It is a partisan vehicle, as admitted by the House Republican majority leader, Mr. McCarthy, to drive down my poll numbers. Big surprise. And that’s what they have attempted to do. I am still standing. I am happy to be part of this debate…And I intend to keep talking about the issues that matter to the American people.”

The most plausible outcome here is that the new Republican admissions about the Benghazi probe probably won’t end up mattering all that much. They will give the Clinton camp a way to reassure nervous Democrats by showing that she is now on offense rather than defense, and a way to rev up base voters by showing more fight. But Dems were going to rally to her side in any case. Meanwhile, they won’t matter in the least to Republican base voters, who will probably tune out the quotes entirely, even as they remain convinced that the probe is heroically going about the task of ferreting out further proof of Clinton’s evildoing.

And in the end, while it is always possible that further revelations will damage Clinton with voters in the middle (however many of them are left), many of them may end up dismissing all of the back-and-forth as so much Beltway white noise.

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* IOWANS REASSURED BY HILLARY PERFORMANCE: The New York Times talks to Democratic voters in Iowa and finds that they were reassured by Hillary Clinton’s debate performance this week. This is interesting:

Mrs. Clinton satisfied questions about trustworthiness when she noted that President Obama had trusted her enough to pick her to run the State Department, said Becky Schmitz, a social worker in Jefferson County. Before the debate, she leaned toward Mrs. Clinton but had doubts. Afterward, the doubts were gone. “She strengthened my position towards her,” Ms. Schmitz said. “She was very poised and strong, and I thought she carried the debate.” That was a sentiment shared even by Democrats who did not come away supporting Mrs. Clinton.

Clinton was very deliberate in pointing out that Obama had picked her as Secretary of State because he trusted her judgment, which was obviously intended for just this audience.

* PAUL RYAN QUIETLY PONDERS TAKING SPEAKERSHIP: CNN reports that Paul Ryan very much has not ruled out running to replace John Boehner:

People who have spoken to Ryan over the last several days say the Wisconsin Republican is deeply torn about taking the job — worried that the position will force him into abandoning his long-held policy goals but also cognizant that he is almost certainly the lone figure who can rebuild a caucus now in deep disarray. “He’s in a tough spot because he knows he’s the only one who can do it,” said one Republican source who spoke to Ryan.

Of course, the fact that the job of Speaker has become tantamount to putting a sign on your back that says, “hey conservatives, come kick me for fun and profit,” might also be dissuading him.

* NEXT PRESIDENT WILL INHERIT AFGHAN WAR: President Obama has decided to keep 5,500 troops in Afghanistan at least into 2017, ditching his vow to end the war, and the Associated Press comments:

The president’s decision to keep the U.S. military in Afghanistan beyond his tenure thrusts the conflict into the 2016 presidential race. The next president will become the third U.S. commander-in-chief to oversee the war, with the options of trying to bring it to a close, maintaining the presence as Obama left it or even ramping up U.S. involvement in the conflict.

It will be interesting to see how the Democratic candidates respond to this this, given that Clinton is already thought to be too hawkish by a lot of liberal activist types.

* HERE COMES A NEW BENGHAZI MOVIE: The New York Times reports that a new movie about the “heroics” of CIA security contractors who attempted to defend the Benghazi compound is coming to theaters just two weeks before the Iowa caucuses. The script has one of the compound’s defenders saying this: “We got nobody backing us up here. Nothing.”

The Times claims that this will make Clinton “feel exposed” at “precisely when the Clinton campaign will be working to put the issue away.” But the story also says the movie doesn’t mention Clinton, so we’ll see how much this matters in the real world.

* BIDEN HAS WAITED TOO LONG: ABC News’ Jon Karl suggests on the air this morning that there is a “growing sense” even among Joe Biden’s friends “that he may have waited too long” before deciding whether to enter the presidential race, and that the “decision being made for him.”

We agree. With this week’s debate, a new phase of the campaign has started. Time to end this already.

* HILLARY OCCUPIES THE CENTER: E.J. Dionne argues that the Democratic debate, in showcasing an argument over Bernie Sanders’ unabashed socialism, has shifted the debate in a leftward direction, with this consequence:

Whatever happens to Sen. Bernie Sanders’s candidacy, he will deserve credit for having widened our political horizons….Setting the boundaries of debate is one of the most important tasks in politics. We now have a more realistic sense of the choices before us: Sanders’s unapologetic democratic socialism, Clinton’s progressive capitalism and the Republicans’ disdain for government altogether. Guess who occupies the real political center?

Indeed, polls show that many of the positions expressed at the Dem debate have majority support, while many policies coming out of the GOP primary are to the right of the American mainstream.

* QUOTE OF THE DAY, FREEDOM FRAUD EDITION: Via Taegan Goddard, here’s Ted Cruz on the Democratic debate:

“It was more socialism, more pacifism, more weakness and less Constitution….It was a recipe to destroy a country….We’re seeing our freedoms taken away every day and last night was an audition for who would wear the jackboot most vigorously. Last night was an audition for who would embrace government power for who would strip your and my individual liberties.”

Behold the line of B.S. peddled relentlessly by Freedom Frauds like Cruz: You need to elect a Real Conservative like Senator Cruz to block those freedom trampling Democrats and hold accountable those feckless establishment GOP leaders who enable them. So send money, quick!