Several Republicans spent Wednesday grilling Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, which killed U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) assailed Clinton for failing to read diplomatic cables requesting more security at the consulate, claiming that it was a fireable offense. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) suggested that administration officials had deliberately misled the American people by initially claiming that the attack had started as a spontaneous riot. As Johnson repeatedly pressed her on why she hadn't discovered the cause of the attack sooner, an exasperated Clinton pounded the table and said, "With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. What difference, at this point, does it make?"
The dust-up clearly cheered her fans, and Clinton will leave office with her popularity at sky-high levels, despite a months-long campaign by the GOP to link her to Benghazi. (The low point was reached when prominent conservatives went so far as to claim that she had faked a serious illness to avoid testifying before Congress.) Here, four theories of how she was able to weather the Benghazi storm:
1. Republicans blew Benghazi completely out of proportion
At the hearing, Paul claimed that Benghazi was America's "greatest tragedy since 9/11," a reflection of just how seriously Republicans have treated the incident. But ask nearly any Democrat and they'll tell you such comparisons are ridiculous, particularly following a decade in which America was involved in two bloody wars, not to mention a school shooting in December in which 20 six-year-old children were killed by a lone gunman. "Paul's performance in this morning's Senate hearings reveals that he is far more interested in scoring political points and making headlines through the tragedy that is Benghazi than he is in learning the lessons of history or showing even the smallest shred of maturity," says Rick Ungar at Forbes. Paul's exaggeration could be seen as a microcosm of the entire controversy: Conservative ardor for the issue has simply not been shared by most Americans.
2. Americans don't believe there was a cover-up
Republicans have suggested over and over again that the Obama administration had initially attempted to cover up the attack, pointing to early statements by Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. However, the White House has insisted that Rice was merely reading off erroneous talking points, which has been backed up by reporting. In addition, the Obama administration fully acknowledged the mistake, and Clinton today testified, "We've been as transparent as we can." According to a CNN poll taken in December, a solid majority of Americans believes the White House's story.
3. Clinton's damage control was perfect
By appointing an Accountability Review Board headed by respected public servants to investigate Benghazi, Clinton proved that she's "mastered the art of damage control," says Matthew Cooper at National Journal. "There's no better 'scandal' management than leading the charge to get to the bottom of things." The board's findings revealed a flawed security process at the State Department, which will be addressed by Clinton's successor, and led to the dismissal of several mid-level diplomats.
4. Her former Senate colleagues went easy on her
Most of Clinton's "old colleagues in the Senate are too chummy with her to press hard," says Allahpundit at Hot Air, despite "her and her underlings’ shameful negligence." Lawmakers have been content bludgeoning Rice, "while her boss endured nothing worse than some grumbling about her making sure to testify after she got out of the hospital."