Democrats seem to be hotly debating whether to boycott the House select committee that Republicans have said will investigate the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya.

The Democrats’ response one way or the other doesn’t matter for electoral politics. Barring any extraordinary revelations — and none is even hinted at in the public record so far — voters aren’t going to care about Benghazi in 2014 or in 2016. Scandals can hurt presidential approval (which in turn can hurt the president’s party in elections), but it’s hard to imagine a less promising “scandal” than this one.

Even as Democrats ponder whether participation would legitimize the committee and a boycott would discredit it, the evidence suggests that Republicans aren’t particularly interested in winning any arguments. In other words, the select committee is less about establishing wrongdoing than it is about creating a venue for saying “Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi!” on Fox News. Oh, and to raise money.

That’s the logical takeaway from Derek Willis’s finding that only a handful of Republicans in Congress have been talking publicly about this “scandal.” That’s nothing like the situation when Congress established committees to investigate Watergate, Iran-contra and other real scandals.

It’s possible that a few more easily conned folks in the press will feel obliged to take this “investigation” seriously in the name of even-handedness. But that’s not the point of the committee and, in any case, there’s nothing Democrats can do to prevent it.

Boycotting can’t discredit something that isn’t seeking legitimacy in the first place. Nor would any minds be changed by Democrats’ participation, which probably would mainly aim to demonstrate that the panel is a witch hunt. Perhaps a few Democrats could raise their profiles (and some campaign money) by showing up, which actually could help them.

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

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Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.