Could Benghazi Have Changed The Outcome Of The 2012 Election?
ABC News’s Jonathan Karl had another exclusive report today with the news that the Republican National Committee had produced, but then decided not to run, an ad focusing on the Administration’s response to the attack in Benghazi:
It was the Benghazi attack ad the Republican National Committee created but never aired.
ABC News has obtained an ad the RNC made last fall and approved to air in the final weeks of the presidential campaign. The ad begins with a replay of Hillary Clinton’s famous “3 a.m. phone call” commercial from the 2008 campaign and then cuts to video of the burning U.S. consulate in Benghazi Libya.
Over the images of the attack-in which four Americans were killed-words appear on the screen:
“The Call Came … On September 12, 2012.” As the screen goes black, the words continue: “Security Requests Denied. Four Americans Dead. And an Administration whose story is still changing. The Call Came.”
The video of the Benghazi attack used in the ad includes the sound of gunfire and what appear to be voices of people speaking a foreign language as flames engulf the consulate.
A source familiar with the creation of the ad says the RNC leadership approved the ad but it was scrapped at the last minute because of objections from the Romney campaign, which was concerned the ad would distract from Romney’s efforts to focus on the economy.
Here’s the video:
The fact that the attack on Benghazi plays a central role in the narrative that conservatives have developed regarding the attack and the Administration’s response to it. According to this narrative, the White House and the Obama campaign’s first response to the attack was to worry about its political consequences and the danger that it would upset one of the central parts of the President’s re-election campaign, the idea that he had decimated al Qaeda and kept America safe from terrorism. That’s why, they argue, the talking points used by Susan Rice when she went on the Sunday morning news programs on September 16th were edited to remove references to al Qaeda and terror and instead read to make it appear that the attack was primarily the result of protests over an anti-Muslim YouTube video. The narrative also seems to lead conservatives to believe that had “the truth” about Benghazi come out prior to the election then it would have hurt the President’s re-election campaign and, quite possibly, given Mitt Romney the chance he needed to win the election. As will all theories like this, it’s perfect for those who believe it primary because it seemingly cannot be refuted since we cannot go back and alter the past to test the hypothesis. Nonetheless, there is still reason to be doubtful that any more information about Benghazi would have had a significant impact on the election in the end.
David Weigel explains one reason why:
[W]hy are Republicans convinced that this would have altered the election? Four Americans died in the attack in Benghazi. For the first time since the Carter administration, a diplomat was among the fallen. That was unspinnable. That did a certain amount of damage to the Obama campaign, like it should have. Where Hannity et al lose people is on the “cover-up”—why would the phrasing of talking points have ended the outrage? Why, because the administration was telling voters that the death of Osama bin Laden effectively ended the War on Terror, and that there was nothing new to fear, so we could go on not talking about “Islamism” and be perfectly safe.
This was never going to work. We learned why, not during the election, but during the weeks around the George W. Bush Presidential Center dedication. Bush, you’ll remember, was president during the deadliest terrorist attack ever on American soil. Yet Bush’s defenders credited him with Keeping America Safe. How? As Jennifer Rubin put it (though you could quote one of dozens of pundits), “there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11” while Bush was at the wheel.
This is mockable (Charlie Pierce calls it “the great mulligan”) but astute. Bush got re-elected on this theory. Americans are fretful about terrorism only to the extent that it might kill them in America. The Bush-era response to terrorism led to two fitfully successful land wars in central Asia, with thousands of military deaths; more relevantly, when we’re talking Benghazi, the Bush years saw 64 attacks of varying scale on American diplomats and embassies. None of them hurt his re-election. A terrorist attack of the same scale in, say, Indianapolis would have. Not overseas.
In other words, it’s unlikely that an attack on Americans overseas would have had a significant impact on the election. Indeed, had it become a significant campaign issue, it’s most likely that the public would have looked to the President for leadership rather than holding it against him. Now, if September 11, 2012 had seen a terrorist strike in an American city, even something as relatively low-key as the attack on Boston last month, then things would arguably different. This would have been the first successful terrorist strike on American soil since the September 11th attacks, and that would have been significantly politically different. An incident overseas is simply a different animal and, unless it was something massive like the attack on the Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1982, it’s just not likely to have that much of a domestic political impact.
Another reason why the idea that more information about Benghazi would have had a significant impact on the election is two-fold. First of all, foreign policy played a very small role in the 2012 election itself. Indeed, other than the single Presidential debate that focused on foreign policy (which itself delved into domestic policy more than once over the 90 minutes it ran), both campaigns spent almost the entire campaign focused on domestic issues like jobs, the economy, and health care policy. The main reason for that, of course is that poll after poll showed that these were the issues that voters cared about, but it was also because this was where the two candidates actually had significant differences. In reality, there weren’t a lot of differences between Mitt Romney and President Obama on foreign policy outside of the rhetoric. Additionally, the polls in 2012 consistently showed that the President had impressively high poll numbers when it came to foreign policy and the “war on terror, ” even in polls taken after the Benghazi attacks. This is why you just didn’t see many attacks on Obama on the foreign policy front, because it was going to be next to impossible to change voters minds on that issue. Given that, it’s no surprise that the Romney campaign was not enthusiastic about the RNC ad mentioned in Karl’s report.
So, no, I don’t think any amount of revisionism could credibly be crafted together to make the argument that the outcome of the election would have been any different if only “the truth” about Benghazi come out, or if the Romney campaign had hit the President over it more often. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that there will be plenty of conservatives who will hang on to it to justify their belief that the election was winnable if only the campaign had been run the way they wanted to run it.