Viewpoint

A key Republican leader’s truthful gaffe about Clinton and the Benghazi probe

Potential House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is under fire for comments about the Benghazi probe on Hillary Clinton.
Potential House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is under fire for comments about the Benghazi probe on Hillary Clinton. AP

So now we know: One of the principal reasons Republicans spent so much public money investigating the tragic Benghazi episode was to bring down Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the likely successor to House Speaker John Boehner, told Fox News’ Sean Hannity explicitly on Tuesday night that the Clinton investigation was part of a “strategy to fight and win.”

He explained: “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened, had we not fought.”

The Republican-led House hasn’t been particularly good at governing, but perhaps governing has never been the point. Why govern when there’s a future election to influence?

No doubt Republicans will clean up after McCarthy’s comments by insisting that the politics were a side benefit from a necessary investigation.

But taxpayers might be interested in learning whether their hard-earned money – sorry, I could not resist invoking that favorite GOP cliche – was going out the door primarily to affect the chances of one particular candidate for president. How much? Rob Garver of the Fiscal Times has estimated that the select committee “will likely spend some $6 million by next year.”

McCarthy’s statement does not make Clinton’s problems disappear miraculously. She has suffered damage, some of it self-inflicted, from using a private server during her time at the State Department. Clinton herself has acknowledged that she should have used a government server. Almost no one in her own party believes that she handled the ensuing controversy particularly well. She has recalibrated her response in recent weeks.

Fine. But McCarthy’s statement gave Democrats what they have long sought: a rather strong public hint that this investigation was never on the level. “This stunning concession from Rep. McCarthy reveals the truth that Republicans never dared admit in public,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the committee’s ranking Democrat. “The core Republican goal in establishing the Benghazi committee was always to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and never to conduct an evenhanded search for the facts.”

McCarthy’s admission once again ratified the writer Michael Kinsley’s still brilliant observation that a gaffe occurs “when a politician tells the truth – some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.” But why did McCarthy do it? Consider the nature of the House Republican Party he’d like to lead.

The main objection of right-wingers in the House to Boehner and their other leaders is that they have not been tough enough as partisans and ideologues.

I don’t know how much more aggressive the House GOP could be with President Obama than it has already been – short of accusing the entire administration of treason.

Bill and Hillary Clinton have been lucky over the years in having a cast of characters arrayed against them who always overplayed their hand. McCarthy, who kept a poker table in his Sacramento house during his days in the California Legislature, went all in a bit too early.

Email: ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.

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