Benghazi Fizzles

Conservatives want, so very desperately, for Benghazi to be Barack Obama's undoing. And you have to give them credit for trying. Yesterday's hearing, hyped like it was the Super Bowl by Fox News, wasn't the first or the second or the fifth on the topic, and each one is supposed to deliver the blockbuster revelation that will finally show America just how evil the Obama administration is. But if you look at the way they've been talking about it, you can see some faint glimmers of doubt. Sure, you can always find somebody to come on Fox and take the speculation to an absurd level ("Did Hillary Clinton order the consulate to be unprotected because Ambassador Stevens knew she's an al Qaeda operative and she wanted him killed? We just don't know"). But I think all that speculation is sapping their spirits. After a while it gets tiresome to keep harping on what might have happened or why, when it would be so much more satisfying if there were some actual incriminating facts you could bring to bear. For instance, they know there was a cover-up, because every good scandal has a cover-up, but they can't even say just what was being covered up. That's kind of an important part of the story. For god's sake, they're still going on about Susan Rice's inaccurate Sunday show talking points, not because they feel like that's the heart of the nefarious conspiracy, but because they haven't come up with anything more damning.

I'm not saying conservatives don't believe that something sinister happened, because they surely do. That's one of the characteristics of their view of this administration, which is kind of an exaggerated version of what partisans always believe about an administration from the other party. In their eyes absolutely everything Barack Obama and the people who work for him do is sinister. There's no such thing as "something terrible happened," there isn't even any such thing as a mistake or a series of mistakes. Obama and his minions are malevolent to the core, and if Republicans haven't successfully exposed the malevolence then it's only because Obama has been so clever at hiding it.

Do they really think the President might get impeached or at least resign over this? Maybe they do. Do they really believe, as they've said so many times, that Benghazi is worse than Watergate? Probably. In a way, that's not a completely crazy conclusion if you're sitting where they are. If you're a regular consumer of conservative media, Benghazi does seem like as big a deal as Watergate. If you've got Fox News on the TV all day, you see hours and hours of coverage of it. You hear one person after another tell you about the administration's cowardice and malfeasance, about their conspiracy to cover up the terrible truth, and about how it's all going to be exposed any day now. Sure, there are people who bluster about Benghazi even though they probably don't believe it, as a sop to the rubes back home. And sure, it's all pretty vague, and nobody has explained to you exactly what happened that isn't a misjudgement or a tragedy but something corrupt or illegal. But this is Obama and Clinton, right? We know what they're like. If we haven't found the impeachable offense, it's only because we haven't looked hard enough.

A genuine scandal can be pushed for cynical partisan reasons, but in the end its outcome is going to be determined by the facts. After yet another hearing that was supposed to produce the blockbuster revelations but failed to deliver, I suspect you'll see Republicans slowly peeling away from Benghazi promotion. First it'll be the more practical people, who certainly want to keep the administration under fire but are realistic about what's working. Over time, more and more Republicans will stop taking affirmative moves to push the story—they'll aver that the administration acted horribly if you ask them, but they aren't going to pin their hopes on Benghazi to be Obama's downfall. Eventually, it'll be something that only the Michele Bachmanns and Steve Kings of the world bother talking about. You'll know it's over when Fox News moves on to some other faux scandal, in its endless search for the next "worse than Watergate."

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