The dull thud you just heard was the sound of Republicans beating a dead horse. The sharp thwap you just heard was the sound of Hillary Clinton swatting them silly.

Clinton has already weathered two decades of Washington scandal-mongering — Vince Foster was "murdered," she was a college "radical," she was a "lesbian," she supposedly made too much money from commodity futures, she supposedly did wrong during Whitewater, whatever — so it's no surprise that she survived inquiries about Benghazi with nary a nick to her sky-high reputation on Wednesday.

Her current poll approval rating is 67 percent; congressional Republicans are stuck at 19 percent. Who won yesterday? You do the math.

Obviously, what happened in Benghazi was a disaster. Four Americans, including a well-loved ambassador, should not have died. An accountability panel - appointed by Clinton and helmed by former Joint Chiefs chairman Michael Mullen and respected diplomat Thomas Pickering - has already concluded that the State Department screwed up by not adequately securing that U.S. outpost in Libya. And Clinton herself has already vetted the panel's verdict. She said so again yesterday, in the Senate and House hearings.

But leave it to the Republicans to overreach and make fools of themselves. Clearly, a decisive electoral defeat has not tamed them.

Paul points to Iowa

Case in point, U.S. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Here's hoping that the tea party icon runs for president in 2016, as he's already threatening to do. Yesterday, we got an advance look at what a career ophthalmologist brings to the realm of public policy.

At one point he told Clinton, with an eye on the TV cameras (or, more specifically,  2016 Iowa caucus voters): "I'm glad that you're accepting responsibility. I think that ultimately, with you leaving, that you accept the culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11. And I really mean that."

Wait, what? Benghazi is "the worst tragedy since 9/11?" I seem to recall that 20 little schoolkids were decimated just one month ago.

And with respect to foreign policy, I seem to recall that 4,488 Americans lost their lives, and tens of thousands more were wounded or maimed for life, in a needless war fought on false pretenses. When the Bush administration was ginning up its deceptions about Iraq, did Rand Paul ever utter a peep? Nope. Back in 2002, the eye doc was busy complaining, in letters to the editor, that the landmark Civil Rights Act was an assault on the right of property owners to discriminate on the basis of race.

Rand also told Clinton that, "had I been president at the time" of the Benghazi incident, "I would have relieved you of your post." As if this guy will ever get to the Oval Office without a visitor's pass. Clinton didn't even respond to that pronunciamento. Really, why bother?

A real turkey of a question

But the fun part came moments later. Rand asked her: "Is the U.S. involved with any procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling, anyhow transferring weapons to Turkey, out of Libya?"

"To Turkey?" she replied with incredulity. "Nobody has ever raised that with me."

Paul: "It's been in the news reports that shops have been leaving from Libya, and that they may have weapons."

Clinton clearly had no idea what he was talking about, and with good reason.

Forget the flap over whether Beyonce lip-synced on Inauguration Day, because this was way more entertaining: Rand was lip-syncing rumors that have lately circulated on right-wing forums.

What he cites as "news reports" are actually conspiracy theories - floated by Glenn Beck, Fox News, and various obscure websites - which allege (without a shred of proof) that the CIA has been buying weapons in Libya, and shipping them via Turkey to Syrian rebels affiliated with jihadist groups that kill Christians. Got all that? Clinton just swatted him away by suggesting that he ask the CIA.

Another tea-party senator, Ron Johnson, also buzzed around her for awhile, beating the dead horse about whether her department should have known right away that the attack on the Benghazi consulate was triggered not by a spontaneous mob, but by organized terrorists.

Yet again, we heard about how Susan Rice went on TV to say that it was a spontaneous mob. Yet again, the Obama administration was accused of orchestrating a deliberate coverup, to keep Americans from learning that the attackers were organized terrorists. Republicans floated those lines during '12 campaign, and got nowhere. And in December, a CNN poll found that Americans, by 54-40 percent, rejected the claim of a White House coverup.

Clinton indulged Johnson for a while, but finally, on the issue of whether the attackers were spontaneous or organized, she erupted: With four Americans dead, "What difference does it make at this point?"

Some conservatives gleefully floated that clip online, because of course it makes a difference to know what happened.

Yet, even here, in classic Republican fashion, Ron Johnson overreached. He suggested in a subsequent radio interview that Clinton had faked her emotional outburst (just like she had faked her blood clot illness, apparently). Then, a few hours later, Johnson surfaced on CNN and walked back his accusation, saying: "I probably speculated, and I shouldn't have."

If these Republicans (including the House GOPer who yesterday accused her of "letting the consulate become a death trap") were trying to derail a potential 2016 presidential candidacy, I doubt they succeeded.

According to the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, even 41 percent of Republicans applaud her stint as Secretary of State. As for all those dead-horse questions yesterday, ex-Bush homeland security advisor Frances Townsend went on CNN and called them "a waste of time." The problem, she lamented, was that Republicans "were so busy posturing."

Weary of outrage

Indeed, Erick Erickson, the prominent conservative blogger, recognized even in advance of the Hillary hearings that Benghazi was a loser for the GOP: "Conservatives...have become professional victims dialed up to 10 on the outrage meter. Who the hell wants to listen to conservatives whining and moaning all the time about the outrage du jour? Seriously?...Bitching about Benghazi doesn't do that either."

And if the "purveyors of outrage" (Erickson's term) persist in trying to bang Clinton over Benghazi, perhaps they should heed the general warning voiced this week by one of their own, Republican congressman Justin Amash: "The public is not behind us, and that's a real problem for our party."

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