intelligencer chats

Should Susan Rice’s Benghazi Past Matter to Biden?

She’s on the shortlist. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Susan Rice is now a major contender for the role of Joe Biden’s second-in-command. The former national-security adviser has had a long diplomatic career but is probably best known for her association with the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi in 2012. Intelligencer staffers discuss her merits as a candidate and whether the right-wing attacks against her matter much in 2020.

Benjamin Hart: Seemingly out of nowhere, Susan Rice has, over the past few weeks, vaulted into serious contention to be Joe Biden’s running mate. Would this choice make political and/or practical sense?

Sarah Jones: She’s such a bizarre choice. I can’t get over the fact that she’s even on the shortlist.

Eric Levitz: I actually think it makes sense from Biden’s POV. She’s the only one he’s already had a good working relationship with in the past. If he posits that the VP choice doesn’t matter much in electoral terms (which seems reasonable), then I can see why he’d rather have an old White House friend as his deputy than Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren. I agree that it’s weird from other angles though.

Sarah: Biden has kind of backed himself into a corner.

Ben: How so?

Sarah: He’s limited himself to a pretty restricted shortlist by pledging to pick a woman VP. I just think it was silly to come out and say, “I will pick someone based on the following identity characteristics.” (A) You’re not going to make up for your hideous legislative record by picking the right token, and (B) now you’ve got an extremely short shortlist.

Ben: I don’t think A is really a problem politically speaking — he’s destroying Trump among women. A Rice pick, or something in that vein, may be a problem among a narrow subset of people, but they’re probably not going to be placated by whomever he chooses anyway.

Sarah: That’s true, but I also think that’s one of the reasons it was silly to pledge to pick a lady VP. It wasn’t necessary. I think if the objective was to pick someone who could actually help him govern, Warren was the obvious choice.

Jonathan Chait: I think Rice makes a fair amount of sense. You want a candidate who reads as ready to take over, and she checks that box. And I think in reality she does understand the government well and could handle it. She has not campaigned but has some experience being scrutinized and being the subject of partisan attack.

Eric: He should have just said, “Sorry, it’s Kaine again,” and been done with it.

Sarah: Lol.

Ben: I do think there would have been huge blowback if he picked a man — but ultimately it probably wouldn’t have mattered much in terms of losing anyone’s vote.

Sarah: Mostly, I just resent the “Here’s a crumb, ladies” logic of the decision, which is coloring my judgment, I’ll admit.

Adam Raymond: Are we going to have to relitigate Benghazi if he picks Rice? Apparently yes.

Ben: That was my first thought upon hearing she was a contender, which shows what a number the Republican propaganda machine has done on me.

Margaret Hartmann: That’s why I’m pretty passionately anti-Rice — I can’t take more Benghazi.

Jonathan Chait: Is the (false) charge that Rice somehow enabled the deaths of four Americans even meaningful right now? Imagine Trump basing his campaign on a “disaster” that led to four deaths.

Margaret: Does it matter that it’s false?

Jon: Even if it were true!

Margaret: I’m pretty sure the Clintons haven’t killed anyone, and Hillary wasn’t dying in late summer ’16. The veracity of the claim is besides the point.

Adam: I’ve been told Trump saved roughly 1.8 million people from the coronavirus, so I don’t think the Benghazi body count would slow the right-wing criticism.

Margaret: Anyway, I don’t see what Rice adds. I think much of the country knows her as the lady who could not be secretary of State due to Benghazi and is now a Fox News character.

Jon: The question is how it plays to people glancing at CNN chyrons and small local-news snippets.

Eric: I agree with Jon. I think the key problem for Trump is that all the bullshit demagogic scaremongering that is the bread and butter of GOP campaigns just looks like strained efforts to deflect attention from his crisis management in the context of a pandemic.

Margaret: I was looking over Rice’s Wikipedia page, and it could basically read “member of the deep state.” It’s obviously not her fault, but it just seems like it will be so easy for them to rev up the “Obamagate” silliness.

Ben: But does that resonate among anyone outside the Fox News bubble?

Margaret: Like Jon said, I think it’s about low-information voters, and I’m not sure how they’ll react, but aren’t these the same people who were swayed by the Comey letter? Probably (hopefully?) people are focused on bigger issues right now and won’t get sucked into Obamagate 2.0.

Sarah: Yeah, I don’t think it would work.

Ben: I think the difference there is that unlike with Hillary, a large majority of people probably don’t know who Susan Rice is, and even if they do, they don’t have a fully formed view of her.

Margaret: I think it’s likely a lot of voters only know Warren and Harris.

Eric: I don’t know. For years now, my family has had a “no mentioning Karen Bass at Thanksgiving” policy because she inspires such strong, polarizing feelings.

Ben: Even ordering bass at Red Lobster is verboten.

Margaret: My general feeling for weeks has been that Biden is all about not rocking the boat, and that means picking Harris. But maybe they learned some dark secret in her vetting.

Ed Kilgore: My opinion: It would be just fine that Rice would mesmerize Republicans with a revival of Benghazi! Is there any evidence that a single non-Republican ever bought into the whole thing? I’m much more worried about what Karen Bass would do to the contest for Florida. Her “Wish I hadn’t said what I thought” and “Gee, didn’t know Cuba was a dictatorship” defenses of her past statements about Fidel are really, really weak.

Should Susan Rice’s Benghazi Past Matter to Biden?