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May 05, 2014 1:05 PM Benghazi Won’t Matter in 2016

By Jonathan Bernstein

It looks like the phony Benghazi scandal isn’t going away. And, yes, I suppose that Hillary Clinton will need to deal with it if she continues running for president, because foolish reporters will ask questions.

It still won’t have any effect on the 2016 elections.

Step one is whether it it will have an effect in the nomination fight. Issues, scandals, candidates and campaigns matter a lot at this stage, but Benghazi won’t. It could play a role if party actors — Democratic politicians, campaign and governing professionals, formal party staff and officials, donors and activists, and party-aligned interest groups — soured on her because of her association with the “scandal” or if they were scared it would make her unelectable in the general election. There’s no evidence that is happening. In fact, she appears to be dominating the invisible primary as no other nonincumbent has before. Nor is there any indication it could cause rank-and-file voters in the caucuses and primaries to turn against her.

By the time we get to the general election, issues, scandals, candidates and campaigns don’t matter much. And this “scandal” is highly unlikely to be different. Take George H.W. Bush and Iran-contra in 1988. That was a very real scandal, accompanied by a policy disaster, not to mention several actual crimes. It shattered the approval rating of President Ronald Reagan, making him fairly unpopular in 1987 and into 1988. And yet Iran-Contra played a relatively minor role in the 1988 general election campaign, and it’s hard to see that it had any effect on voters.

In Clinton’s case, it’s unlikely that any aspect of her tenure at State will matter in November 2016 if she’s the nominee. Just as Mitt Romney’s time as governor of Massachusetts or the Senate careers of Barack Obama and John McCain weren’t important in their presidential quests. Campaigns and candidates can matter around the margins, but the chances that any particular event — never mind a foreign policy event four years before — will move votes, are vanishingly small.

Those who were definitely going to vote against Clinton don’t need a reason. If it wasn’t Benghazi, it would be something else.

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.

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