It’s rare that a single op-ed piece can encapsulate a political party in crisis. But Richard J. Cross III, a longtime Republican operative, has achieved that feat accidentally.
Cross is the latest member of the GOP to join the ranks of the Never Trump movement. His arguments in a piece for the Baltimore Sun are familiar. He doesn’t like Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. He thinks his party’s nominee does not embody the hopeful conservative ethos of Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower. He may just have to vote for Hillary Clinton. You’ve read all this before.
What makes Cross’s op-ed so astounding is that he is the author of a prime-time speech less than a month ago that faulted Clinton for the murders in Benghazi, Libya. The speech was delivered at the Republican National Convention by Pat Smith, mother of Sean Smith, one of the four Americans who perished there in 2012. The speech included the unforgettable line: “I personally blame Hillary Clinton for the death of my son.”
With all respect for Smith’s pain and grief, this is bananas. Clinton made many errors with regard to Benghazi. She presided over a State Department that failed to respond to dozens of urgent requests from the outpost for increased security. She told the public that the attack was a demonstration gone awry, after she had told her daughter it was the work of an “al Qaeda like group.” She advocated for toppling Muammar Qaddafi but failed to fill the vacuum in Libya after his regime fell. The review panel she commissioned after the attack was stacked with loyalists who didn’t even bother to interview her. Mid-level officials were punished and senior aides skated.
But Clinton didn’t kill Sean Smith. Ansar al-Shariah and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb did. To say otherwise is to let the terrorists off the hook. It is to deprive them of their agency. It is to do to Clinton what progressive activists did to George W. Bush in the 2000s. They paraded Cindy Sheehan, mother of the late Casey Sheehan, who blamed Bush for the death of her son while he was fighting in Iraq.
One might think that given Cross’s newfound revulsion toward Trump, he would be contrite about his role in this spectacle. But Cross is proud of his work. “As a political speechwriter, that was something of a home run moment for me,” he wrote. “The New Yorker called the speech ‘the weaponization of grief.'”
It was more though than just grief’s weaponization. It was also a kind of sabotage. Republicans in the last eight years, time and again, have sacrificed a good case against Obama for sensational nonsense. Benghazi was a national security scandal. It exposed Obama’s own delusions about how the threat of international terrorism was receding. Why, after all, were no assets positioned to rapidly respond to Benghazi on the anniversary of Sept. 11?
But Benghazi was not a chapter in a John Grisham novel where a sinister president deliberately let his ambassador die. Smith’s speech at the Republican convention was not the first time the GOP went down this kind of rabbit hole. It has been happening since 2008. The voices of sensational nonsense have grown louder and louder. From the whispers about Obama’s citizenship to the party’s nominee telling a frenzied crowd the president founded ISIS. The Republican Party is going crazy. Now one of the enablers of this insanity is thinking of jumping ship, long after the damage has been wrought.