Skip to main content

Rand Paul vs. Hillary Clinton, clash of titans

By Timothy Stanley, Special to CNN
updated 9:32 AM EST, Thu January 24, 2013
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pictured in October 2012, has become one of the most powerful people in Washington. Here's a look at her life and career through the years. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pictured in October 2012, has become one of the most powerful people in Washington. Here's a look at her life and career through the years.
HIDE CAPTION
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Photos: Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Photos: Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Timothy Stanley: Benghazi hearing with Secretary Clinton was emotional, confrontational
  • He says her strong reputation likely intact, but administration still must answer for incident
  • He says Rand Paul's blunt critique pointed up administration's obfuscation
  • Stanley: Paul vs. Clinton in 2016 is a compelling idea; could hearing be a harbinger?

Editor's note: Timothy Stanley is a historian at Oxford University and blogs for Britain's The Daily Telegraph. He is the author of "The Crusader: The Life and Times of Pat Buchanan."

(CNN) -- If Monday's inauguration displayed the gushing, ceremonial aspect of American democracy, Wednesday revealed its more sober and confrontational side -- a Senate committee hearing. The hearing was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vs. the Republicans on the painful subject of Benghazi, Libya.

After a lot of anger from the senators and a surprising amount of emotion from Clinton, the final score was a draw. But some Republicans did better than others, and Clinton probably emerges with a healthier reputation than the administration that she's leaving. Moreover, the debate throws up some tantalizing "what ifs" about 2016. Is America ready for Hillary Clinton vs. Rand Paul?

Timothy Stanley
Timothy Stanley

To take Clinton first, it's remarkable how much her role as secretary of state has transformed her.

Five things we learned from the Benghazi hearings

To conservatives, she was once the Lady Macbeth of liberalism; the feminist power behind Bill Clinton's throne whose every utterance seemed calculated to upset the right. Her book "It Takes a Village" was greeted like a manifesto of anti-American collectivism -- so much so that Rick Santorum felt compelled to pen a response called "It Takes a Family." But secretaries of state often find themselves elevated from partisan politics in to the heavenly realm of "national interest" (think Henry Kissinger or Colin Powell), and therein Clinton has redefined herself as a competent and admirable public servant.

Consider John McCain's first words at the Senate hearing: "We thank you for your outstanding and dedicated service to this nation and ... all over the world where I travel, you are viewed with admiration and respect." Given her extraordinary hard work and efforts to advance the rights of women and children, she has certainly earned that respect. It's found in ample supply at home, too. According to Gallup, the former controversialist is now America's "most admired woman."

But even if Clinton did get through the hearing with her reputation intact, that doesn't mean that Benghazi doesn't leave scars on the administration. The critical -- and most electric -- round of questioning was started by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin. He demanded to know why Clinton didn't try to find out what was really happening on the ground sooner and why the administration persisted so long in refusing to label the Benghazi incident a "terrorist attack."

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Opinion: Benghazi blame-game is useless

Clinton's defense was similar to Obama's during the presidential election: something went wrong, we didn't want to interfere with ground operations and it took a long time to gather the intelligence to know what really happened.

But Clinton lost her cool and summed up that position in a breathtakingly callous phrase: "What difference, at this point, does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, senator." All the difference in the world, I would imagine, to the relatives of the personnel who died.

This rare loss of composure perhaps underlines the weakness of the administration's case.

The White House seems to think -- as John Hayward at the Conservative website Human Events puts it bluntly -- "the game ends when they say the magic phrase 'I take responsibility,' and they win." But it does not.

Part of "learning" from the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is admitting the basic errors that were made and providing the public with a clearer narrative of what really happened. But all we have at the moment are a catalog of errors that make up a very confusing story.

Clinton tears up at Benghazi hearing
Clinton's heated exchange over Benghazi
Johnson: 'Surprised' by Clinton reaction
Ayotte: So many unaswered questions

It's obvious that the political situation in Libya is not more stable since Moammar Gadhafi was removed from office (just ask any Algerian), that insufficient security was provided at the consulate, that the administration fumbled its explanation of what occurred on September 11, 2012, that the rescue operation was delayed and that the CIA had some shadowy role to play in the whole mess. Clinton's assurance that "I do feel responsible" is not reason enough to stop asking these questions and just move on.

Who then made the best case for the prosecution from the Republican side?

Given that Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was participating, it felt at moments like an audition for 2016 -- and Rubio's staff put the video of his questions up on his website with remarkable speed.

Clinton lays out daunting security challenges in North Africa

But the most impressive performance by far was from Rand Paul. He delivered a cool, withering statement that climaxed in this devastating paragraph (and you have to watch it to get the full effect): "I'm glad that you're accepting responsibility. I think ultimately with your leaving that you accept the culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11. And I really mean that. Had I been president and found you did not read the cables from Benghazi and from Ambassador (Christopher) Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post. I think it's inexcusable."

This performance might be -- and should be -- remembered well by the Republican base when the primary campaign of 2016 starts. Ever since the last president election, Rand Paul hasn't set a foot wrong. From his bridge-building visit to Israel to his opposition to the fiscal cliff deal, he seems well placed to become the tea party candidate.

And what an unusually satisfying choice Clinton vs. Paul would be.

It would be a genuine contest between big government liberalism and small government conservatism: Clinton's internationalism and support for welfare programs vs. Paul's anti-interventionism and opposition to pork.

The question of who could win such an unusual contest is difficult to answer. The Paul family has a tradition of winning votes from Democrats, but Clinton's new respectability could also pull votes away from the Republicans. One Kentucky poll found that in a head-to-head contest, she'd even beat Rand in his home state of Kentucky.

It would be a campaign that any elections scholar would relish.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Timothy Stanley.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT