If Republicans on the House Select Committee on Benghazi thought that grilling Hillary Clinton for 11 hours was going to derail her bid for the U.S. presidency, signs on Friday pointed to their disappointment.
One indication was the big grin on Clinton’s face as she stepped before a friendly audience Friday at the Democratic National Committee’s Women’s Leadership Forum. “It’s been quite a week, hasn’t it?” she said.
Her smile widened as she basked in the applause. “As some of you may know, I had a pretty long day yesterday.”
Another sign was the money rolling into the Clinton campaign. Just after the marathon Benghazi session ended, the campaign announced it had enjoyed its best hour of online fundraising ever.
Then there was the media reaction. Clinton’s competent and patient handling of questions related to her tenure as secretary of state in 2012 when U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed at the U.S. consulate in Libya won her praise.
“Taking a victory lap,” “feeling glow of success,” “tightened her grip” on the Democratic nomination — those were some of the media descriptions, indicating that journalists at least thought Clinton had carried the day.
Finally, a Quinnipiac Poll released Friday morning showed Clinton leading her closest rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, by 11 percentage points in Iowa, which has the first presidential nominating contest in the country in February.
Clinton’s applauded performance before the committee followed other recent successes. She was widely considered the winner of the Democratic Party presidential debate earlier this month, and her poll numbers have been rebounding.
And perhaps as a result, her rivals for the nomination have been dropping out, shrinking the Democratic field from five to three.
Former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee told the Women’s Forum on Friday that he was stepping down, "As you know, I have been campaigning on a platform of 'prosperity through peace.' But after much thought, I have decided to end my campaign for president today," he told the forum.
Former Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia had announced he was leaving the race on Wednesday.
The biggest boost this week, though, was the decision of Vice President Joe Biden not to seek the presidency. Many observers thought Biden could have put up a good fight against Clinton, and his decision was presumably a relief to her campaign.
“I am confident that history is not finished with Joe Biden,” Clinton told the forum Friday after applauding Biden’s championship of women’s issues.
Anger over hearing
Even before Thursday’s hearing, there were signs that many Americans were fed up with the Benghazi investigation. A CNN poll conducted just before the hearing showed that 72 percent of all Americans saw the Benghazi committee as mostly using its investigative mission for political gain.
Even Republicans were skeptical, with 49 percent saying the committee was trying to score political points as opposed to 47 percent who saw it as an objective investigation.
After the hearing: “It’s time to disband this costly farce of a committee. Even as political theater, it hasn’t worked,” wrote the Sacramento Bee newspaper. The cost of the Benghazi investigation has been reported at more than $4.5 million.
On Friday, Democratic members of the committee mulled leaving the panel altogether, but after a meeting with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, they agreed to stay “in order to make sure the facts are known and the conspiracy theories are debunked."
They wrote in a statement: “We are calling on Speaker [John] Boehner to immediately shut down this abusive, wasteful and obviously partisan effort."
Republican presidential candidates insisted that the questioning revealed Clinton’s weaknesses in public office.
“Stand with [Committee Chairman] Trey Gowdy,” tweeted Florida Senator Marco Rubio, “as he uncovers the truth about Hillary Clinton’s actions as secretary of state.”
“Benghazi security failures were a stunning example of an incompetent foreign policy,” former Florida Governor Jeb Bush wrote on Twitter.
“Horrible job,” tweeted Republican front-runner Donald Trump “She is no leader.”
But Clinton’s opponents may come to regret a hearing that, however motivated, put her on live television for so long. Campaign ads are costly and last only a minute or two. Clinton was in the public eye — and showcased — for 11 hours.