Considering that big target on her back, Hillary Clinton is having a pretty good week. She emerged from a marathon grilling before the Benghazi Witch Hunt Committee relatively unscathed, her most formidable primary opponent bowed out before bowing in, and a former member of the vast right-wing conspiracy gave her a big smooch.
Let's be clear that Clinton doesn't get a go-free card for her conduct as secretary of state.
But as the seven other committees investigating the incident that took the life of the American ambassador and three others found, Clinton could have neither prevented the attacks or done anything within the realm of plausibility to better defend the U.S.'s Libyan assets. The fault lies not with a woman who happened to have a private email server. It lies with the terrorists.
"Retreat from the world is not an option," Clinton told her interrogators in a contempt-edged near whisper in the best line of the 11-hour day. "America cannot shrink from our responsibility to lead. That doesn’t mean we should ever return to the go-it-alone foreign policy of the past, a foreign policy that puts boots on the ground as a first choice rather than a last resort."
(And howcum we were told in various news accounts that Clinton was wearing a blue pantsuit but not what the interrogators were wearing? How else would we have learned witch hunter-in-chief Trey Gowdy was splendid in a Dracula outfit and fangs?)
Speaking of fault, the nihilistic Gowdy brings new meaning to the word dumbass. Gowdy promised shocking new disclosures at yesterday's hearing. There were none. No smoking guns, no gotchas, no nothing but partisan clownery and a lot of lung clearing. (Gowdy's implication that Ambassador Stevens either lacked access to Clinton or that Clinton prioritized her communications with Clinton family leech Sidney Blumenthal was flagrantly false, and Gowdy knows that.)
Gowdy had attacked Clinton the other day for putting the name of a CIA source in one of those emails, then named the source himself. And the Stop Hillary PAC running those appalling TV ads blaming Clinton for abandoning the Benghazi Four? It's an operation run by, among others, Dan Backer, who also served as treasurer of Gowdy's leadership PAC and is underwriting a robocall campaign in support of Gowdy.
Asked Slate semi-seriously in a headline:
Do Republicans Really Think
Christopher Stevens Died
Because He Didn't Have
Clinton's Email Address?
"Unless something happens," tweeted conservative columnist Matt Lewis, "it's starting to look like Hillary Clinton won't merely survive this hearing -- she will have come out on top."
Meanwhile, much is being made in the wake of Joe Biden's announcement that he won't be challenging Clinton of the supposed bad blood between them.
As if rivals for the same office -- the highest office in this instance -- sometimes don't see eye to eye? That Biden wasn't supposed to feel that Hill and Bill were . . . a bit too venal for his more down-to-earth tastes? And she didn't feel like he was looking over her shoulder? A better question is why so many pundits and others were sure Biden was going to run. I was convinced from the jump that he would not run unless . . .
So what did I know that the Beltway crowd didn't? Maybe it's because I'm not a red meat guy and knew that Biden understood he would be run through the grinder in a quest that wasn't just unrealistic for all the wrong reasons, it was foolish for all the right reasons. The unless explains why he took his time, and that was in case Hillary Clinton imploded, as opposed to him hoping that she would, and that's an important distinction.
Remember David Brock?
The writer, once a member of the "vast right-wing conspiracy" that hounded the Clintons, is calling for the Benghazi committee to be disbanded. "There's no reason to keep this farce going," Brock declared to the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia.
Brock's super PAC, Correct the Record, is opening a "war room" of researchers and spokespeople to handle rapid-response defenses of Clinton and counterattacks on the committee, and this attack dog's soon-to-be-released book will make waves. In Killing the Messenger: The Right-Wing Plot to Derail Hillary Clinton and Hijack Your Government, Brock accuses Carolyn Ryan, The New York Times senior politics editor and former Washington bureau chief, of helping to turn the paper into a "megaphone for conservative propaganda" by unfairly targeting Clinton.
Okay, folks, it's time to recalibrate.
Clinton had been trending upward in the four major national polls before the first debate, let alone Biden's announcement and neutralizing her Benghazi attackers. Other than herself, and she does have a history of shooting herself in the Guccis, who's gonna to stop her now?
WHEN IS AN OUTSIDER NOT AN OUTSIDER?
As the third Republican presidential debate nears, much continues to be made of the "outsider" status of the three front runners, and perhaps too much.
I've believed that calling third-ranked Carly Fiorina an outsider to be idiotic. She is an establishment conservative with establishment conservative ideas ginned up to attract the drool cup crowd, and I'll be damned if I can tell much difference between her and Mitt Romney other than how they dress. And where are her supporters going as she slides in the polls? To establishment candidates like Jeb Bush and John Kasich.
Dr. Ben Carson, who is second ranked in most polls while leading Donald Trump in two, is an outsider only if you consider religious conservatives outsiders, which they stopped being several Republican presidential election cycles ago. Can you say Pat Robertson, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee? If there is a difference between those three and Carson, it's only that the good doctor is even nuttier.
This brings us to the front running Trump, who is an outsider by almost any definition, although it's pretty much impossible to determine whether his support has more to do with that or his longstanding celebrity status. I suspect the latter.
Nate Cohn of The New York Times makes a good point when he notes that voters who say they want change don't necessarily support what he calls "highly unorthodox candidates" like Trump, and polls pretty consistently show that while voters say they want an outsider, they're split on whether Trump has the experience to be a good president. Put another way, do candidate preferences drive the answers to issue questions rather than the other way around?
A FINAL WORD ABOUT JOE
We want to believe our personal narratives even when they seem a bit taxed. My Joe Biden narrative is that despite the corrosive culture of Washington and the enormous pressures to sell one's soul, he has remained a good man. I look no further than the fact he made the announcement that he would not challenge Hillary Clinton by running for president the day before her grilling by the Benghazi Witch Hunt Committee.
As longtime readers know, Joe and I have a little bit of history. But then so does anyone who grew up in postage stamp-sized Delaware, as we both did. I know some people who positively detest Joe. When I arranged through his Senate office for a friend's elderly father to receive a long deserved but long denied war medal, he turned it down because Joe would be the presenter and he hated the guy.
Delaware voters are notorious ticket splitters, having once elected a Republican governor and a Democratic lieutenant governor, and have a history of throwing out longtime incumbents when they feel they're no longer effective. That's how Joe was elected to the Senate in the first place. Delaware voters sent Joe back to Washington five more times, each time by a larger margin than the last, and that's not because he had the most successful hair weave in Senate history. Most of them, my friend's father notwithstanding, say they kept voting for Joe because they thought he was effective and did much to put little Delaware on the big map, but most of all because he was honorable.
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968. Click here for an index of previous Politix Updates.
IMAGE FROM DONKEYHOTEY/FLICKR. USED WITH PERMISSION.