Rather than simply acknowledge that the George Washington Bridge scandal was a flagrant abuse of power, Chris Christie's GOP defenders are channeling the daft voice in their tooth fillings. It's the old Butwhatabout rhetorical con game, and, oh so predictably, they're all playing it.

Karl Rove on Fox News Sunday: "...Benghazi..."

Ex-Bush flak Ari Fleischer tweeted: "...Benghazi..."

GOP chair Reince Priebus on NBC News: "We want to find out about...Benghazi."

Rudy Giuliani on ABC News: "I think it's going to be hard for Democrats to turn (the bridge scandal) into an issue" because of the Obama team's "handling of Benghazi."

Congressman Adam Kinzinger on ABC News: We oughta be talking about Obama screwing up, "we see that with Benghazi."

Hey, I get why they're trying to change the subject. Christie is the only '16 Republican hopeful who's competitive in the polls with Hillary Clinton; right now,  she's waxing everyone else. So keeping him viable is a top GOP priority. Indeed, selling him to the wary conservative base is an even more urgent task.

Hence the invocation of "Benghazi" as a distraction and rallying cry - focusing not on Christie's demonstrable culture of intimidation, but instead recycling the old saw about Obama's supposed coverup of a soft-on-terror conspiracy. Hence the decision by party talking heads to don their propeller hats and bathe anew in the fever swamp waters of Trollville.

There's really no point in parsing Benghazi yet again; if that's what you want, run to Darrell Issa, Congress' version of inept Inspector Clouseau. Suffice it to say, none of the House probes have found any evidence that Team Obama knew of an organized al Qaeda plot to storm the consulate (there was no organized plot), allowed the (non-existent) plot to happen, and/or covered it all up afterward. As Thomas Pickering, a three-time ambassador under Ronald Reagan, said on TV last year (after Issa refused to let him testify), "The notion of a quote 'coverup' has all the elements of Pulitzer Prize fiction."

Meanwhile, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman said that, regardless of the mix of attackers, the closest U.S. fighter jets were up in Italy, three hours away and too far to help. Meanwhile, 60 Minutes claimed not long ago that it had found an eyewitness to the attack, somebody who'd embarrass the Obama administration; the fever-swamp denizens were thrilled - until it turned out that the eyewitness was a BS artist who didn't witness anything. Elsewhere, a new bipartisan Senate report says that while the tragedy was "preventable" if only the intelligence agencies and diplomats had been more vigilant, there's no proof that Obama's people deliberately played down the terrorist origins of the attacks, or that they shrugged off advance warnings. (I have yet to see a Obama staffer's email that says, "Time for some security problems in Benghazi.") On the contrary, the Senate report describes the attacks as opportunistic, not the result of an organized plot.

But empirical evidence doesn't mean squat. it's much easier for Christie's defenders to simply bleat about "Benghazi" (and about "IRS," despite indisputable evidence that the Cincinnati office also key-worded progressive and Occupy) than to substantively engage on the bridge scandal. Which is only the tip of the iceberg.

Full engagement would require that Republicans acknowledge Christie's governing ethos - for instance, his lavish awards for Democratic mayors who kiss his ring, and ruthless punishment for those who do not. Thus, the compliant mayor of Union City got $3 million in Port Authority money even though the Port Authority has no business in Union City; thus, the Democratic mayor of Jersey City discovered, within hours of refusing to endorse Christie's re-election, that 10 previously scheduled meetings with Christie officials - meetings to discuss policy issues affecting his city - had been peremptorily canceled.

Nah, better to invoke "Benghazi" as a smokescreen for all that is yet to come: the various federal and state investigations, the subpoenas and testimony of Christie underlings, none of which will do much to boost his brand. "Benghazi" can't compete with that stuff. In fact, ongoing Republican complaints about lax embassy security can't begin to compete with this news item, culled from yesterday's New York Times, regarding the bipartisan budget deal:

Despite the concern over security after the 2012 attack on the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya, the spending bill earmarks less to embassy security, construction and maintenance than it allotted for fiscal 2013 - $2.67 billion, down by $224 million.

Yep, the Republicans signed off on that. But no doubt they have a ready answer: "But but Benghazi!"

-------

By the way, I question whether Christie's spin can compete with this burst of brilliance. Once a scandal enters the popular culture...

-------

Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1