Washington (CNN) - It was a sideshow, but a compelling sideshow nonetheless.
The main act was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's at times angry, at times emotional testimony on Wednesday at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's hearing on the September terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
But presidential politics was another storyline, thanks to three of the participants who might be harboring 2016 ambitions.
Clinton, the outgoing secretary of state, faces constant pressure from fellow Democrats to make another bid for her party's presidential nomination, even though she's said over and over that another run for the White House is not in the cards for her.
The other two were Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Both were elected in 2010 with strong support from the tea party. Paul has publicly stated that he's considering a bid for the 2016 GOP nomination. Rubio has not been as expressive, but is considered someone who also has White House ambitions.
The two senators were polar opposites in their questioning of Clinton during the hearing, which may say something about both men's possible strategies towards 2016.
Rubio went first, stating, "We all wish that this had never happened so this hearing would never have to happen. But we're glad to see you here and wish you all the best," before asking, "One of the things that I'm interested in exploring with you is how information flows within the State Department and in particular in hindsight looking forward how we can prevent some of this happening."
Clinton was gracious in her answer, saying up front that, "I appreciate your kind words. And I reiterate my taking responsibility."
While understated, Rubio's three questions probed whether Clinton had inquired into security for U.S. diplomats in Libya in the year leading up to the attacks.
Paul didn't so much question Clinton as confront her.
"I'm glad that you're accepting responsibility. I think ultimately with your leaving you accept the culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11. And I really mean that," declared Paul, adding that, "Had I been president at the time and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you from your post. I think it's inexcusable."
While Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin asked tough questions, Paul's comments stood out.
But when he finally asked a question, it was whether the U.S. was involved in the transfer of weapons from Libya to Turkey.
Clinton appeared almost bemused by the question, saying: "To Turkey? I'll have to take the question to the record. No one ever raised that with me."
So which strategy was more effective?
"Rand Paul will never have to worry about winning a general election for president of the United States," said Republican strategist and CNN contributor Alex Castellanos. "Even though it might make the entire party look unreasonable, he can attack Democrats until the libertarians in the GOP base foam at the mouth and it is all to his advantage."
"Marco Rubio has a different and more serious hand of cards to play. He may not only compete in a general election, he may lead the nation someday. He has to demonstrate that he is a potential president and not a partisan politician. If you want to be president, you have to act like someone who could represent the entire nation," added Castellanos, who served as a media strategist for seven presidential campaigns and who co-founded Purple Strategies, a bipartisan public affairs firm.
Another GOP strategist, who asked to remain anonymous so he could speak more freely, said that each senator had a different mission: "This is a classic case of the tortoise and the hare, with Marco Rubio more concerned about gaining traction than garnering headlines, as Paul's questioning is sure to do."
Republican strategist Ron Bonjean says that Clinton's poll numbers may be behind Rubio's strategy.
"Senator Rubio understands that Hillary Clinton has very high ratings and the Benghazi crisis has not damaged her image or credibility among American voters. For a 2016 general election, Rubio must get back the lost share of female voters from the last election, so why not let other Senators such as Rand Paul and John McCain go after her?" asks Bonjean, who served as a top adviser to Republican leaders in the House and Senate before co-founding a public affairs firm.
Clinton did come to the hearing equipped with some very high public opinion numbers.
According to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll released Wednesday morning, just a few hours before the outgoing secretary of state testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the morning and before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the afternoon, two-thirds of Americans said they have a favorable impression of Clinton, while just over one in four saying they have a unfavorable impression.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released last week indicated that nearly seven in ten approved of the job Clinton was doing as America's top diplomat, with just a quarter of the public saying they disapproved.
But both surveys pointed to a partisan divide, with nearly all Democrats and two thirds of independents, but only a minority of Republicans, giving Clinton a thumbs up. But that partisan divide is not nearly as wide as it is in polling of President Barack Obama.
In the end, all three possible 2016 candidates got something out of this hearing.
Could this 2013 hearing about a terrorist attack in 2012 be one of the opening acts in the 2016 election? And will we see clips from the hearing in 2016 campaign commercials?
– CNN's Ashley Killough contributed to this report
Sorry, but she is too old now. She should
have had it last time. Country probably be better off. Such division in the country now. Not good for USA.
Hillary was so rehearsed on this performance it was uncomfortable to watch. The Republicans know that the elite liberal media can't wait to ignore her testimony and let the whole trajic episode just go away. Hillary's rediculous antics and brazen answer of "who cares now" will be the story told by her friends in the media, not the answers that demaned to be answered but were not and probably never will lest the President or Queen Hillary be shown in a negative light. The whole thing is disgracefull
No hearings on 1million deaths of innocent Iraqi citizens
Oooh you wingnuts and your clever attempts at misquoting slogans.
Remember "you didn't build that"?
How did that one end up working our for you?
meh. What difference does it make?
Obama will have destroyed most of America, by then.
Hey, feel free to find a country where you ideals of small government, little taxes and no regulation are in full effect. You know, like Somalia.
This is an obvious cover-up that will prevent the unqualified (just like Obama was) Hillary Clinton from ever holding office again, much less the presidency.
Bwa ha ha ha ha... yeah, keep running up candidates like Ryan, Rubio, Walker and keep unskewing those polls. It worked so great for you guys last time didn't it?
She is going to be the Republicans worst nightmare. If there is anything they fear more in the WH than a black man, it's a woman. Go get 'um Hillary.
What this says about 2016 is that the GOP is a failed party who ruined this country and have no chance at winning the White House in the next election. The Republican party are as divisive as the confederacy was for America during the Civil War.
Amazing that branless numskulls like Rand Paul and some of the nuts on the House committee can get elected to anything. Their stupidity demonstrated so ably in the Clinton hearings are a real relfection on the knowledge and rason level of the voters in their areas. Such self serving, political hacks need to be put in their place==the nearest looney bin!!
For the record, I think her "What difference does it make" comment really backed that senator off and put him in his place. It pointed out how small minded and purely political he was being in pressing his question about whether it started due to a demonstration or if it started as part of a planned attack.......which she had already answered numerous times. And also for the record, Senator Paul reminded me of one of those little dogs that bite at your ankles when you come into the house. Nasty disposition and a lot of bark.......but not enough teeth to really do any harm. He looked very small in his remarks.
Typical Waste of time hearing that doesn't help any of us Americans that so many of the Reublicans claim to be worried about what we are being told and who should be telling us. If they are so concerned about what us Anericans hear the second every event occurs, why don't they ASK US – instead of claiming they know what we want. When what we really want is for the ignorance to stop and for them to just do what's right – which first means they would actually have to think about someone other than themselves and their own ridiculous republican political agendas. Losers, they should ALL be asked to leave their posts!
not to mention, any OTHER party that gets in his way. That's what dictators do.
There won't be much left of America to preside over, by 2016.
Obama will have destroyed most of America, by then.
==================================================================================================== Rick – You need to turn on Fox News for some new sound bites. We're all used to the mindless, unsubstantiated comments but a little variety would be nice. Some new right-wing conspiracy would be more entertaining than this stuff.
What I think people are missing is that a lot of folks feel like they were lied to and that tthe Government tried to cover up the fact that a terror attack happened and it was even worst since an ambassador was killed.....A lot of people think it was a cover up to make sure Obama got reelected...and he did so like Hillary said "What difference, at this point, does it make" She is a shoe in for the White House in 2016....like it or not!
My, my, my. How easily we forget all the lies, criminal activity, torture, illegal imprisonment, wiretaps, human rights violations, and arrogance of the W administration that ended up costing tens of thousands of lives, and are still costing lives. The loss of these four gallant Americans can be chalked up to the same. Not even bothered to sweep under any so-called "rug", they just did it and did not care. Is this a side show?---You Bet. The good news is that by 2016 the GOP will probably no longer exist too continue to victimize America. People have caught on. Party's over little boys.
I can see a logistical problem for the 2016 Republican Primary. The Republican Clown Car can certainly hold the Anchor Baby/Coconut Rubio" and "I'm-Crazier-Than-My-Dad Paul". But where would the common-sense RINO Christie sit? Maybe they could have a "Clown Truck" for 2016...
It's funny during the Benghazi hearing a democrate said he didn't want to place blame and went through a history of debacles that republicans were responsible for from Reagans marine barracks,two embassies costing over 300 lives in the "80's to Bushs wars started with lies of WMDs that cost us over 4500 men,women and thousands of civilians and still counting..This is just another in a line of failed political witchhunts brought on by Darrell Issa and friends the creator of massive defense cuts responsible for the reduction of security at these embassies..Get his hypocrite republicans butt up there and let him fry awhile like he did with Eric Holders Fast,Furious that cost millions of taxpayers money but produced no results after months of investigations..This will be another 3 ring circus to discredit Hillary because as a rep from American Samoa said he'd love to see her run in 2016 and then a round of applause from people behind her but no republicans were smiling I can assure you because yes she is a political threat that they can't ignore because they have no one of equal to match her in brains or raising funds...Have fun republicans you're digging another grave that'll be filled with you!!
That crazy Paul family. Who keeps voting for those 2? First Rand Paul votes against the fiscal cliff relief, now this. And who keeps voting for old man McCain? He needs to be put iut to pasture with Ron Paul. They share a room at a Sunrise nursing home.
Some one should remind the republicans that they were the ones that refused to fund an embassy transfer. this crap is nothing but a witch hunt and presidential wanna bees trying to look like something other than a fool. as for paul ryan he will never be president. lets hope even with the republican party rigging to steal elections they all will be voted out of office in 2014.
Rand Paul's "had I been president" comment is laughable. He has a snowball's chance of ever being elected to national office, and he's a joke compared to Sec. Clinton (or anyone else for that matter, other than his nutty father). I hope he runs for president, so that the next Republican primary season will be another circus of unqualified extremists.
This was nothing more than a stage show by republican hopefuls. Rand Paul and John McCain are an embarrassment as U.S. Senators. Marco Rubio is smarter than both of them put together, but severely lacking in intelligence when compared to Secretary Clinton. The current day republican party is extreme and fanatical, bit Ill-equipped to be of any real help to the nation.
funny, I don't remember the Secretary of state being grilled in congress over the Cole or 9/11
The three gop bafoon party stooges bland Paul , marbles Rubio and dufus Johnson ,the losers in 2014 and 2016 along with the rest of the gop national disgrace party !!!!
Even the Repubs know that they will not have a chance against Hillary in 2016 (or 2020) – if they don't get with the times and move far from their evangelical base and Plutocratic economic philosophy they are a done on a federal level.
Ron Paul "The Cable Guy" will not make a good president as he would spend all his time reading cables.