Hillary Rodham Clinton won't appear before the House select committee tasked with investigating the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, until next Thursday. But, thanks to House Republicans, she's already got a major leg up, politically speaking.
First came House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's career-killing comment that the Benghazi committee deserved credit for dragging down Clinton's poll numbers. Now we have Rep. Richard Hanna (N.Y.) who told a local radio station this week that "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." Hanna added: “I think that’s the way Washington works. But you’d like to expect more from a committee that’s spent millions of dollars and tons of time.”
Oomph. While McCarthy's comments were the sort of thing where, in the most positive light, you could see them being something short of an indictment of the roots and goals of the Benghazi committee, Hanna's are not. This is a politically motivated operation aimed at trying to damage the leading Democratic candidate for president, according to Hanna. Not much room for misunderstanding there.
(Sidebar: If you are a politician, or really anyone, and you hear yourself saying "this may not be politically correct," just close your mouth and immediately stop talking. Same goes for "this is going to upset some people, but...")
Even before Hanna's comments, Clinton was using what McCarthy (R-Calif.) had said as evidence that the hearing next week was nothing more than a piece of partisan political theater. Here's Clinton from Tuesday's Democratic debate:
But let's just take a minute here and point out that this committee is basically an arm of the Republican National Committee.
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.
Cue applause. And that was before Hanna's comments. Now Clinton can quote Hanna back to Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the committee's chairman, and every other Republican on the committee: "Well, one of your colleagues seems to think this is a partisan effort, etc..."
The Benghazi committee had become problematic for Clinton over the past six months because, no matter what many people believed about its formation, it had unearthed information about Clinton's exclusive use of a private e-mail server during her time at State that stood outside partisan politics. So, for months, Clinton struggled to find a way to discredit the committee and, more broadly, the whole e-mail controversy. Polling suggested that people believed she hadn't been entirely forthcoming about her e-mail setup; a majority of registered voters (54 percent) in a September Washington Post-ABC poll said she had tried to "cover up the facts" of her e-mail server.
Then came McCarthy and Hanna, handing Clinton a way to cast doubt not only on the Benghazi committee but any and all of its findings. It's hard to overestimate how big a favor McCarthy and Hanna have done for Clinton as she angles to win the Democratic nomination. Not only do their comments allow her to effectively dismiss much of the noise surrounding the committee but they also help unite wary Democrats behind her — something she has struggled to do on her own in the campaign so far. Clinton as the target of a relentless Republican machine forever trying to discredit her is a much better look than Clinton as the forever calculating politician without any core convictions.
All of that doesn't mean Clinton is totally out of the woods with either the Benghazi committee or the e-mail issue. She's not. But, her chances of winning those political fights have improved dramatically over the last two weeks — and all because of the comments of two Republican politicians.