Kevin McCarthy Steps Into a Faux Outrage

The expected next speaker of the House says the Benghazi committee helped drag Hillary Clinton down. Is anyone truly surprised or upset by this?

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Kevin McCarthy hasn’t even been elected speaker of the House yet, and he’s already got himself a political mess. Speaking to Sean Hannity, the current majority leader said this:

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 comments have occasioned much noise, much alleged outrage, and much handwringing. Republicans have been saying, the thinking goes, that the Benghazi committee was a disinterested, careful look into what happened in Libya on September 11, 2012. And now McCarthy has gone and given away the game, admitting it’s a political stunt. That makes it a classic “Kinsley gaffe”: when a politician screws up and accidentally tells the truth.

Color me unimpressed. The most surprising thing about this quotation is McCarthy’s coining of the word “untrustable.”

Deeming this a Kinsley gaffe requires that the truth that is revealed be new, and that there be someone surprised by it. So here’s the question: Are there people who didn’t think the Benghazi committee was designed from the start, at least in large part, to deflate Clinton? From the moment the attack happened, it was clear to Republicans that it could be used as a cudgel against her, and they’ve done so effectively. Most prominently, the committee hasn’t revealed any serious dereliction on her part, but it has circuitously led to the email scandal that has badly wounded her. Even Republicans who had serious questions about Benghazi can’t have had any misconceptions about the political edge to the process.

Of course, the loudest voices in protest of McCarthy’s remarks are Clinton supporters. They are furious, they say. That seems unlikely. Democrats were convinced from the moment the committee was formed that it was a witch hunt. They’re not angry—they’re delighted that McCarthy has confirmed what they believed, and that now they can use it as a political weapon.

At least in theory. A weapon to convince … whom? Are there conservatives who were single-mindedly focused on September 11, 2012, and who will be furious to learn that the committee hurt Clinton? Are there Democrats who didn’t realize this was about politics and will only now get upset? Both seem unlikely. Perhaps there are independent voters who were convinced the committee was pure and chaste and will now be furious and swing to Clinton’s support, but you should believe that when you see them.

There’s a more charitable explanation for what McCarthy said, which short-circuits the Kinsley gaffe claim. As his spokesman lays it out, McCarthy simply means that House Republicans are going about their duties diligently; in the process they found damaging material; and that has hurt Clinton.

Take that at face value or don’t, and it hardly matters to whether the outrage is real. Pretty much everyone on both sides already believed the committee was playing politics, and McCarthy’s comments aren’t likely to shift their convictions.