Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

The biggest mistake Democrats could make on Benghazi

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst
updated 5:42 PM EDT, Thu May 8, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gloria Borger: Republicans in Congress name a committee to investigate Benghazi
  • She says Democrats would make a mistake if they go through with boycott of panel
  • Political subtext of Benghazi probe is GOP effort to get voters to turn out in November, she says
  • Borger: If Democrats skip the hearings, they lose their influence, access to evidence

(CNN) -- No doubt about it, Republicans have latched on to a red hot potato when it comes to the controversy of who-did-what-when in Benghazi.

The awful story of a terrible embassy attack, a botched aftermath and finger-pointing about what more could have been done has already been the subject of an exhaustive internal State Department investigation and congressional hearings.

And the truth is that mistakes were made, everyone is somehow to blame and four people are dead who should not have died. It's a terrible mess.

It seemed to be settling down a bit until last week. That's when the State Department -- after a request made under the Freedom of Information Act -- released a memo by a senior White House adviser that tried to "underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader policy failure."

Gloria Borger
Gloria Borger

Republicans cried foul, especially when the White House offered the weak explanation that the e-mail was not specifically about Benghazi but rather about the "general dynamic" of the Muslim world at the time. Never mind that it was written as then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was about to go on Sunday shows to discuss the event.

So now comes a congressional inquiry -- a new panel with 7 GOPers and 5 Democrats. This time, it's the Democrats who are crying foul, and they're threatening to boycott the committee. I get it: They believe it's a witch hunt, and they don't want to participate. Why legitimize it? Why give it more credence? Why play into GOP hands?

Here's why: If you don't participate, you can't defend. And if you can't defend -- or explain -- you lose. It's as simple as that.

GOP fundraises off Benghazi probe
Smoking gun or partisan nonsense?

This is what's truly going on. This is a short-term political play by Republicans that, they hope, could also have some long-term implications for Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate in 2016. After all, this happened on her watch as secretary of state. That job is one of the major line items on her resume. If the public's assessment of that tenure is called into question, then the value of that job experience is diminished.

But there's a more immediate political play here. Midterm elections are occasions for partisan mobilization, plain and simple. In presidential years, the candidates are about the business of persuading independent voters to give them a shot.

In midterm elections, it's about the partisans. Of the 40% of the electorate that generally shows up, almost no one is up for grabs. Candidates just need to get their party's loyalists to turn out.

For Republicans, Motivator No. 1: Obamacare (or Obama). Motivator No. 2: Benghazi (or Hillary). So long as the economy keeps chugging along nicely, these issues become even more paramount.

Sure, there's a danger of overreach. There always is. (See: Bill Clinton and impeachment.) But Republicans aren't worried about that now, because their partisans are, well, partisan. This is a play for November.

In presidential elections, there's often a huge public appetite for a more forward-looking and affirmative candidate with a plan and a positive message and vision. But midterms are different. They're about partisan bloodletting.

So if the Democrats decide to boycott the committee, it's at their own risk. They will lose out on the conversation, no matter how silly they think it is. They will be uninformed about witnesses, strategies, subpoenas.

As Democrats learned during their participation in the "Fast and Furious" investigation, access to documents is a plus. You can play the game the way you want, leak what you want, tell your own narrative with the facts as you see them. No storyline left behind.

If the Democrats boycott, they may see themselves taking the high road. Trouble is, it could lead them nowhere.

Follow @GloriaBorger

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT