Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

A commenter, TheRadicalModerate, chides me for my earlier post on Benghazi:

I think you're read Benghazi completely wrong. If Benghazi were merely about foreign policy incompetence, it would have died down a long time ago. The reason this has had such staying power and has made some many people half-crazy is because of the perception that the election would have come out differently if the facts had come out in a timely fashion.
Benghazi 2012 is the Republicans' version of Florida 2000. It's very, very difficult for the losing side to accept what they perceive as a fundamental unfairness in the circumstances surrounding an election.

True, I don’t associate the Benghazi obsession with the 2012 election outcome. Although I agree that 2012 would be a good explanation for the obsession.1 Alas, the argument is bonkers

I’ve never seen this spelled out (but see a nice related post from Brian Beutler), so I suppose it’s worth a shot. Perhaps there are Benghazi believers who haven’t stepped back, thought about it clearly, and are open to thinking about it sensibly. At any rate, I'll pretend there are. So what follows isn't about what really happened in Benghazi, or whether the administration did anything wrong. I'm purely concerned with the way accusations about Benghazi relate to what we know about how elections work.

The explicit case for Benghazi mattering has to do with the distinction between an "act of terror" and "terrorism," as well as the role of the video and the idea that al-Qaeda's role in the attacks was covered up. But all that was public long before the election. If there was a cover-up intended to minimize organized terrorism and to plant a false story that the attack was a one-off event that had nothing to do with policy failure, then that cover-up was abandoned long before November 2012, and the truth of what happened in Libya didn't have the theorized electoral effect. It is, and it shouldn’t be necessary to say this, crazy to believe that a delay in learning “the truth” about Benghazi in September could have any effect on voters in November.

It is highly implausible, but not totally bonkers, that the Obama administration might have mistakenly believed that the “terrorism” explanation for Benghazi was a major electoral threat, providing a motive for a cover-up. My reading of the evidence is that no such thing happened, but even if it did, it clearly had no effect on the 2012 election.

The whisper campaign case posits that what the public knew by November 2012 still covered up the real story of presidential malfeasance, i.e. that the president “let people die.” The problem with this approach is that, once again, everyone already knew about the attacks and presumably believed there had been a policy failure -- and yet even that didn’t affect voting choices. Only the wildest conspiracy theories (not just that President Barack Obama botched the situation, but that he actively sought the deaths of Americans) would have had any effect on voters in November.2 After all, voters may not like disasters on the scale of Benghazi, but there’s no evidence that gradations in responsibility matter to them.

And that is what it all comes down to. There was nothing about Benghazi that had any plausible effect on the election. It just isn’t true that swing voters were, or were likely to be, obsessed with Benghazi, or that they based their vote on nuances in the explanation for the events. Most voters, and swing voters in particular, don’t pay very much attention to politics, and they pay even less attention to foreign affairs.

1 Some Democrats remained obsessed with implausible theories about Ohio and voting machines long after the 2004 election.

2 There have been goofy stories. For example, I’ve seen the argument that Obama deliberately prevented troops from intervening as part of the effort to cover up the role of al-Qaeda. But if Obama had been worried only about electoral effects, he most certainly would have done whatever possible to prevent the disaster in Benghazi.

To contact the writer of this article: Jonathan Bernstein at Jbernstein62@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net.