Has Hillary Clinton weathered the latest Benghazi flap?

Clinton's popularity remains unchanged, as a supposed political bombshell fizzles

(Image credit: Getty Images/JP Yim)

It's widely assumed in Democratic circles that Republicans have tried to use the recent furor over Benghazi to deal former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a black eye ahead of a possible presidential bid in 2016. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has all but given the game away, arguing that her alleged malfeasance disqualifies her from ever holding high office again.

Republicans have also demanded that she testify before Congress (again) on the issue, while Karl Rove's American Crossroads super PAC has even released an ad condemning her handling of the attack, which left four Americans dead.

Yet it appears the GOP's efforts are not having much impact.

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Clinton remains as popular now as she was before the latest act in the Benghazi drama, which peaked this week with the release of new White House emails detailing the administration's response to that attack. As Slate's Dave Weigel notes, a Public Policy Polling survey in February found that 49 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of her, while 42 percent did not.

Fast forward to this week, when a PPP poll found Clinton's favorability rating virtually unchanged at 51 percent to 43 percent. In another ominous sign for Republicans, the poll showed Clinton leading every single GOP challenger thrown at her.

Notably, that poll was conducted May 6 through 9 — the exact same time congressional Republicans were holding a "whistle-blower" hearing on Benghazi and alleging a White House cover-up.

So how did Clinton come through unscathed? A second PPP survey conducted days later found that voters trusted Clinton more than congressional Republicans on Benghazi by a 49 percent to 39 percent margin. Furthermore, a majority said Congress should get to work on immigration and gun background checks instead of rehashing old testimony.

"What we're finding after last week's Benghazi hearings is that as angry as Republicans are, most voters think Congress should be focused more on other issues," said Dean Debnam, PPP's president. "And Hillary Clinton's poll numbers weren't negatively impacted by the focus on her."

Since those polls, new reports have greatly undercut the conspiracy claims. The whole scandal is turning out to be, at least from what we know now, largely overblown.

"Is this seriously the best critique of Democratic foreign policy they've got?" asks The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf, who argues that since Benghazi didn't sink Democrats in 2012, it'll be even less of an issue come 2016.

"If details emerge that tell us something we don't know about Clinton and Benghazi, there is plenty of time to use them," he says. "If no details emerge, it is bizarre to think this particular controversy will meaningfully impact her chances at winning the Democratic nomination or the general election."

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