Catch of the Day: Benghazi!

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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The Catch goes to Jamelle Bouie for an excellent post on why Benghazi isn't going to make much of a difference in November 2016 if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee:

"Presidential elections are less about personalities and campaigns than they are about the economy. That's not to say the former don't matter—a strong candidate with a good campaign is a good bet against a weak one with a bad campaign—but that all things equal, broad conditions will affect the outcome more than controversies and scandals."

That's exactly right, as is his example of the minimal difference Mitt Romney's "47 percent" comments made in 2012. Given that Benghazi by 2016 will be a five year old scandal that no one outside of dedicated Republicans considered a scandal in the first place, there's just no reason to believe it will affect even a smattering of votes by 2016.

That doesn't mean that Republicans wouldn't talk about Benghazi! to fire up their voters. But if not Benghazi!, it would be something else; there's no reason to believe this particular story will be any more or less effective than any other one. By Election Day 2016, all dedicated Republicans will have a strong aversion to the Democratic nominee, and all dedicated Democrats will have a strong aversion to the Republican nominee; how we get there doesn't really matter.

What I'd add to this is that there are lots of things that wouldn't matter much in a general election campaign that could derail a candidacy in the caucuses and primaries. When there is little else to differentiate candidates, personalities and campaigns can be extremely important.

However, in this particular case Clinton is inoculated in a Democratic primary from any fallout from Benghazi because of, well, the partisan history of Benghazi! attacks. That is: even though investigations did find fault with the State Department under Clinton and, all else being equal, nomination rivals could use that to criticize Clinton's management skills, it won't happen. There's just no way that a Democratic rival could exploit Benghazi without evoking the wild conspiracy theories that Democratic Party actors and voters disdain.

And: Great catch!

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To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net