(CNN) – 11 Hours of questioning and not one sweat bead popped! For Hillary Clinton, Republicans have become the gift that keeps on giving. Mrs. Clinton owes much of her extraordinary comeback to her own abilities, but surely she must be grateful to the GOP as well. Never in modern times has a political party done so much to rehabilitate the leading presidential candidate in the other party.
The gifts have come in rapid succession:
— The way Republicans have converted Donald Trump into GOP front-runner. For all for their misgivings about Clinton, Trump scares the bejesus out of millions of Americans. How long before we see sprouting of groups like “Republican Women for Hillary”?
— The assertion by two Republican House members — one the GOP majority leader — that the Benghazi hearings were rigged to discredit Clinton.
— The ouster of Speaker John Boehner by hard-right Republicans because he hasn’t been sufficiently tough enough, a clear signal of who is running the House. Ask Mitt Romney how damaging it was to him to be seen as a captive of the far right.
— And, of course, this week’s marathon grilling of Clinton by the Benghazi committee that fortified the widespread belief — some 70% of people on the eve of the testimony according to a CNN poll — that the hearings were a partisan witch hunt.
The hearings could be especially helpful to Clinton because they played out on prime-time television before a sizable audience — some 5.24 million between Fox, MSNBC and CNN — so that massive numbers of voters could judge for themselves. As it turned out, those prime-ime hours were the ones in which Republican members, tired and frustrated, did their worst badgering.
Naturally enough, some conservatives relished the hearings. Editorial writers for the Wall Street Journal, for example, argued that instead of yielding nothing, the hearings showed that even as Clinton was telling the Egyptians that terrorists had planned and carried out Benghazi, the administration was still claiming a film had triggered a spontaneous attack.
They have a good point, just as do Republican members who complain about how slow the Obama administration has been in yielding documents. But these disputes are not the stuff of scandal. (And who has been telling the bigger lie: those who first misled us about the film — and soon corrected themselves — or those who continue to insist the Clinton hearing was impartial?)
What most Americans instinctively want are leaders who are respectful of each other, listen well and are open-minded. And for much of the post-World War II period, that was usually the norm (the McCarthy period was a great exception).
As Clinton pointed out in her opening statement, there have been numerous instances in recent years in which terrorists broke through our defenses and murdered Americans. Investigations always followed but never the kind of disrespectful treatment against a secretary of state as the nation saw this week. And never the impugning of the integrity of distinguished public servants like Ambassador Tom Pickering and Adm. Michael Mullen as we witnessed.
Do you think the Benghazi committee would have conducted itself this way if the star witness had not been Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee? The question answers itself.
In this coming political year, the country needs a robust debate about our direction and plans for going forward. We are at a critical inflection point on many fronts. And we would be best-served if we could decide between two strong candidates representing two strong parties. But judging from recent events, we may not get there — the Republicans could give it away long before the vote.