Yesterday the House Oversight Committee held yet another hearing on the immediate US response to the September 11th 2012 attack on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi. Many on the left have characterized the hearings as politically motivated, which is about as insightful as announcing the discovery of one’s own belly button. And, indeed most of the hearing featured committee members having a spirited match of rhetorical ping pong over who was at fault (if you were guessing the whistleblowers were the ping pong balls). Commentators taking the longer view of the political effects of the Benghazi tragedy suggest it will have a chilling effect on a Hillary Clinton run at the White House in 2016. Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State during the attack and ultimately it is unseemly for her to walk too far away from taking responsibility for the fiasco. That said, you can make a case that taking Clinton down a peg or two could actually be good for the Democratic Party in 2016.
Clinton is seen as a “field clearing” candidate for 2016. If she were to run, the deep Clinton network of donors and her trademark tenacity would ensure a long drawn out primary. Democrats who are keen on protecting Clinton now to help her in 2016 should look closely at her prospects as a general election candidate and consider her effects on the rest of the Party’s bench.
Presidential primaries help develop talent and expose charlatans. Second tier candidates often become valued communicators after elections season has ended and debates (if not too numerous) help develop ideas and themes for the campaign. Primaries can make eventual nominees more extreme, but that is more common in statewide races.
The trouble with a “field clearing” presumed mega nominee, like Clinton, is that you limit opportunities for party growth. Promising younger candidates might sit the race out and those that don’t would feel pressure to put on the kid gloves during the debates.
Furthermore, political favor moves in cycles and no one stays on top for more than a year or so. Democratic operatives gaming out a Clinton response to Benghazi for 2016 might want to start looking for another horse because the current gilded age of Clinton will come to an end sooner rather than later.
I think Hillary Clinton is national treasure, but if Benghazi is what forces her to go out on top rather than get coaxed into being dragged through the mud based on overconfidence than I will side quietly with the Republican witch-hunt. Keep in mind that a party needs heroes as much as it needs quarterbacks, but heroes have to go out on top.