It’s no secret that conservatives aren’t thrilled with the idea of Jeb Bush winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. By any objective standard, Jeb is a very conservative politician, but today’s conservative movement has become an auto-cannibalistic purity party that seeks to expel anyone who possesses the taint of relative moderation. Ten years ago, Jeb was a celebrated Republican governor who fought for socially conservative causes. Today, he’s a RINO sellout and a favorite of the despised Republican establishment.
Activists on the right have been throwing everything they can at Jeb – He supports immigration reform! He backs Common Core! – only to see his proto-campaign gain steam and crowd out other, less objectionable candidates. So now they’re deploying the most potent weapon in the conservative arsenal: Benghazi.
The “grassroots” conservative group ForAmerica (one word, for some reason) has launched a new campaign to tag Jeb as “unelectable.” Their first salvo is a video of Bush presenting Hillary Clinton with an award for her public service on September 10, 2013 – “almost a year to the day after the terrorist attack in Benghazi,” the group notes as a dramatic “DUN-DUN-DUNNNNNNN” plays in your head. The political logic is as follows: Jeb gave Hillary an award; Hillary did Benghazi; therefore, Jeb gave Hillary an award for doing Benghazi.
It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for Jeb. All he did was participate in a time-honored tradition among political elites – giving each other awards as a celebration of shared power and influence. It probably didn’t even occur to him that by putting a medal around Hillary Clinton’s neck he was implicating himself in the most significant and far-reaching political scandal of our age.
The explanation ForAmerica offers for why this video disqualifies Jeb is that Hillary will use it to defang any attacks he might direct at her record as secretary of state. “Jeb has absolutely no credibility to criticize her because he has already anointed her as a great public servant.” Eh, perhaps? If you go and watch Hillary’s full remarks, she celebrates Jeb and the whole Bush family for sharing her love of America and the wisdom of the Founding Fathers. Treating praise for the enemy as an unforgiveable political sin is problematic since part of being a politician is showing magnanimity by mechanically lauding your opponents’ patriotism and shared love of public service.
But this is Benghazi we’re talking about, and there’s nothing more important in the minds of conservative activists when it comes to Hillary Clinton and 2016. Jeb hasn’t really said a whole lot about Benghazi (at least not compared to some of his 2016 rivals) but when he has remarked on it, he’s said what conservatives want to hear – that it showed weakness, emboldened enemies, etc. If there’s danger for Jeb, it’s that he’ll come off as a squish compared to other would-be candidates like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, who declares every few months or so that Benghazi disqualifies Hillary from ever holding public office again.
And that serves to highlight the delightful absurdity at the heart of ForAmerica’s campaign against Jeb. Conservatives believe that Benghazi should preclude Hillary Clinton from holding the office of the presidency, but what ForAmerica is arguing is that in a head-to-head match-up between Jeb and Clinton, Jeb will lose… because of Benghazi. Therefore, by their own logic, Benghazi is more of a problem for Jeb than it is for the person they attack as being responsible for Benghazi in the first place.