The GOP doesn't know what to do with "The Donald." He says outrageous things about Mexicans, then unabashedly comes right back and claims that they love him. And his poll numbers rise. He makes Jeb Bush look like a boring has-been, dismisses all the other Republican candidates as numbskulls — or worse. And his poll numbers rise even higher. He smears the war record of John McCain. And you know what happens.
Trump comes across as exactly what he is — a name-dropping, egotistical, uninformed, bombastic showman. But he isn't an original. Winning by discrediting your opponent through a big smear is right there on the first page in the Republican playbook. Republicans working for George W. Bush even used the big smear to discredit McCain (considered an outsider) in 2000. Then came the Swift Boat smears directed at John Kerry in 2004. Along the way, they smeared the war records of Max Cleland (whose wounds suffered in Vietnam cost him both legs and a forearm) and John Murtha. In Republicanland, if smears, it domineers.
What goes around seems to be coming around. Some fun with that, yes indeed; but sooner or later, Trump will return to his charge that Hillary Clinton was "the worst Secretary of State in history." And when it comes to smearing opponents, Trump is unique; he creates his own shifting realities.
Whoever emerges, whatever their differences, the trail of smears will lead back to Benghazi. The other day I received in the mail a communication from the right-wing Judicial Watch. It came with a bumper sticker that reads: "Four Americans Died and Hillary Lied."
So what happened that night? Here is an excerpt from then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's testimony:
"On that tragic day, as always, the Department of Defense was prepared for a wide range of contingencies. I remind you that the [National Counterterrorism Center] in the six months prior to that attack identified some 281 threats to U.S. diplomats, diplomatic facilities, embassies, ambassadors and consulates worldwide — and obviously, Benghazi was one of those almost 300 areas of concern. But, unfortunately, there was no specific intelligence or indications of an imminent attack on that — U.S. facilities in Benghazi. And frankly, without an adequate warning, there was not enough time, given the speed of the attack, for armed military assets to respond. That's not just my view or General Dempsey's view. It was the view of the Accountability Review Board that studied what happened on that day."
By contrasting how our two parties respectively deal with dire situations, we learn much. Rolling the video backward, back to when Democrats were in charge of the House — back to 1983 — we find the Gipper at the helm, resolved to stand tall against those bad guys who were causing trouble in Lebanon. He opts for the old "banana republic" solution — send in a squad of Marines supported by a battleship.
Now, unlike Benghazi, where the ambassador himself was determined to head into harm's way, the President of the United States sent the Marines to Lebanon. Also note that Reagan's plan was openly opposed by his Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, who told Reagan that "they had no mission but to sit at the airport in Beirut, which is just like sitting in a bull's-eye." Weinberger "begged the president at least to pull them back and put them back on their transports as a more defensible position."
But President Reagan stayed the course, and on Oct. 23, 1983, a suicide bomber killed 241 Marines, the deadliest day for the Marine Corps since Iwo Jima. Then Reagan made matters worse: He had the USS New Jersey shell Beirut, killing scores of civilians and heightening anti-American sentiments. Within six months, he pulled out all U.S. forces.
A presidential commission, headed up by retired Admiral Robert Long, criticized the Navy's chain of command for not providing a clear mission. But the report did not follow the trail of criticism inside the White House. It did make a number of specific recommendations, such as pointing out that in the future it might be a good idea to provide the Marine guards with loaded rifles.
But it's what didn't happen that's most instructive. In 1983, the House Democratic majority did nothing more. No investigations. No accusations. It was viewed as an American decision, not a Republican decision, and the tragedy was shared by all.
But Republicans and Benghazi, looking at four dead instead of 241? They have, as reported by the New Yorker, "kept up a drumbeat of insinuation" with 13 hearings, 25,000 pages of documents, and 50 briefings... which have turned up nothing unexpected." And you can count on it — there will be more to come, all with the sole intent of smearing Hillary Clinton.
Yes, in Republicanland, no matter who manages to shove The Donald to the side, the GOP game plan won't change: If it smears, it domineers. ♦