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 8:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 3:17 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 3:27 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT