Beng­hazi blow­back

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - KATH­LEEN­PARKER kath­leen.parker@wash­post.com

The lead to this col­umn is a deep, gut­tural groan that orig­i­nates in the throat and ex­pands into the lungs be­fore col­laps­ing in the pit of the stom­ach. How do you spell hm­m­m­gr­rrungh? What else is there to say about House Repub­li­cans’ in­abil­ity to get some­thing right? And I say this with com­pas­sion, I re­ally do. Be­cause se­ri­ously? It’s over. Done. Ka­put. With Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) re­cent re­sponse to the sim­plest ques­tion about GOP ac­com­plish­ments in Congress — from Sean Han­nity, the friendli­est in­ter­viewer a GOPer could hope for — the fu­ture may as well be called Demo­crat. Here’s what McCarthy of­fered, if you hap­pened to be away ex­plor­ing con­spir­a­cies about liq­uid wa­ter on Mars: “Ev­ery­body thought Hil­lary Clin­ton was un­beat­able, right?” he said. “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.”

The con­se­quences of McCarthy’s sleight of tongue can’t be over­stated. It wasn’t just a Washington gaffe — when some­one ac­ci­den­tally tells the truth. It was a self-in­flicted, po­ten­tially fa­tal wound, not just to McCarthy but to Repub­li­cans more broadly, in­clud­ing those run­ning for pres­i­dent.

One minute McCarthy was the nearcer­tain next speaker of the House; the next he was per­sona non grata as GOP col­leagues, their own minds hurtling through var­i­ous apoc­a­lyp­tic sce­nar­ios, ham­mered him.

McCarthy has since tried to cram the bad ge­nie back into the bot­tle, but the dam­age has been done and can’t be un­done.

Es­sen­tially, he had handed Clin­ton the keys to her prison cell. Held hostage these past three years by a se­ries of Repub­li­can in­ter­roga­tors about the Septem­ber 2012 at­tack in Libya that killed our am­bas­sador and three oth­ers, she has been lib­er­ated.

The Beng­hazi hear­ings that led to the pri­vate server, that led to the miss­ing 30,000 e-mails, that led to the FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion that thus far has led only to the con­clu­sion that she was hack­able — have been re­duced in the public mind to a po­lit­i­cal hit job or­ga­nized to dam­age her chances of be­com­ing the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee.

This isn’t nec­es­sar­ily the whole of it — House Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Beng­hazi Chair­man Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and oth­ers cer­tainly be­lieve there’s more to know— but the ce­ment has set on what McCarthy im­plied. At the very least, any pre­vi­ous sus­pi­cions that Repub­li­cans were just out to get Clin­ton have cleared the bar of rea­son­able doubt.

One can imag­ine, mean­while, that Clin­ton is per­form­ing men­tal pirou­ettes and grand jetes, danc­ing cir­cles around the vast right-wing con­spir­acy, even as she con­veys al­most sor­row­fully how “deeply dis­tress­ing” McCarthy’s ad­mis­sion is.

Mirac­u­lously, she man­aged not to be­tray the happy tune cours­ing through the sun­lit sa­van­nah of her brain’s lim­bic sys­tem: Born free, as free as . . . I know, I hate it, too. Maybe she and John Boehner can get to­gether and per­form a duet of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”

Yes, this New McCarthy­ism is that se­ri­ous.

The Repub­li­can Party, which de­serves bet­ter than its parts, has suf­fered a dam­ag­ing blow when it can ill af­ford another. Al­ready in dis­ar­ray with con­stant in­ner con­flict, the House also faces Boehner’s im­mi­nent re­tire­ment and yet another debt-ceil­ing cri­sis loom­ing.

McCarthy should tar and feather him­self and ride out of town on a don­key. Then again, couldn’t one as easily say, as Howard Dean re­cently sug­gested on MSNBC’s “Morn­ing Joe,” that, good grief, McCarthy merely bum­bled? That this, too, shall pass?

Not on your life. Does any­one re­ally think Clin­ton will let this pass?

At best, McCarthy can try to be con­vinc­ing when he in­sists that the Beng­hazi in­ves­ti­ga­tion wasn’t po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated (cough, cough, this darned weather). Here, let me help you, sir:

“What I meant was that the Repub­li­can Congress’s great­est ac­com­plish­ment, by way of its in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Beng­hazi, is to have re­vealed that Hil­lary Clin­ton should never be pres­i­dent.”

You see the prob­lem. McCarthy should never have men­tioned the word “Beng­hazi” in the con­text of po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage, for the now very ob­vi­ous rea­sons. How could some­one as­pir­ing to be speaker of the House, No. 2 in line be­hind the vice pres­i­dent to be­come pres­i­dent if so re­quired, fail to know this? House Repub­li­cans will have to an­swer this ques­tion for them­selves when they hold a lead­er­ship vote.

Mean­while, un­less Gowdy dis­cov­ers Clin­ton’s fin­ger­prints on a grenade re­trieved from the diplo­matic com­pound in Beng­hazi, she has ev­ery right to de­nounce any fu­ture claim or ques­tion as the grand­stand­ing of ad­mit­ted po­lit­i­cal scam­mers.

That growl­ing sound you hear rolling down Capi­tol Hill and across the Po­tomac isn’t just thun­der.

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