Clinton testimony upstages GOP's 2016 field
© Greg Nash

They hoped for a takedown; she delivered a triumph. Thursday's Benghazi hearing provided Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonComey responds to Trump with Mariah Carey gif: 'Why are you so obsessed with me?' Trump dismisses reports of Russian meddling, labels them Democratic 'misinformation campaign' The new American center MORE (D) with positive momentum for her 2016 campaign, with her performance generating headlines like "Marathon Benghazi hearing leaves Hillary Clinton largely unscathed" (CNN) and "GOP lands no solid punches while sparring with Clinton over Benghazi" (The Washington Post). Millions of viewers watched at least part of her well-reviewed appearance. The epic session also led to Clinton receiving a record-breaking windfall of campaign donations, with most coming from new contributors.

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So much for the expose of Clinton that Republicans on the Benghazi committee had envisioned. If nothing else, Clinton's appearance proved to be a daylong infomercial for her ability to remain calm and composed under immense pressure. With the next GOP debate coming up this week, her Republican rivals can only dream of such a commanding public performance.

The Republican debate on Wednesday was originally scheduled for three hours on CNBC, a reasonable timeframe with 10 candidates slated to be on stage. But then Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpComey responds to Trump with Mariah Carey gif: 'Why are you so obsessed with me?' Congress to get election security briefing next month amid Intel drama New York man accused of making death threats against Schumer, Schiff MORE, who appeared tired and somewhat listless by the end of the last (three-hour) debate on CNN, complained to CNBC that the timeframe was too long and threatened to boycott the event. Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonMelania Trump receives university's 'Woman of Distinction' award amid pushback from students California Gov. Gavin Newsom on the homeless: 'We own this issue' Trump touts initiative for disadvantaged communities in Charlotte MORE's campaign joined in, and the network caved. The GOP debate will be only two hours, including opening and closing statements and commercials. So we now know that Clinton can face an often-hostile congressional panel, deliver critical testimony, and draw upon her memory and expertise in foreign affairs for 11 hours — while Trump and Carson think that three hours is too long to stand with a group and make the case for their candidacy to the nation. Noted.

During Clinton’s testimony, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioCheese, wine importers reeling from Trump trade fight Peace Corps' sudden decision to leave China stirs blowback Lawmakers raise concerns over Russia's growing influence in Venezuela MORE (R-Fla.) tweeted a message of faux outrage, "SIGN and stand with Trey Gowdy as he uncovers the truth about Hillary Clinton's actions as Secretary of State." This was accompanied by a link collecting names and email addresses for his campaign. Yet such behavior only made him look opportunistic and small while Clinton solidified her public image as formidable. Rubio called Clinton's record "one of incompetence and failure," which is ironic given that he signed the ill-advised letter to the Iranian mullahs attempting to sabotage President Obama's foreign policy.

Rubio could actually learn from Clinton's impressive stamina. Consider that he could not get through a rehearsed State of the Union response on a teleprompter in 2013 without becoming cotton-mouthed and infamously thirsty. Or that he was visibly sweaty at the last debate, which is never an appealing look for an aspiring president.

The other GOP 2016 candidates would all benefit by taking a page from Clinton's playbook. Despite the unprecedented length of her testimony, she never committed a gaffe. Her on-point messaging stands in contrast with former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.), who seems to hop from controversy ("anchor babies") to controversy ("stuff happens," in response to the Oregon mass shooting) of his own making. Clinton never grew testy with her questioners, as Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Pelosi names first-ever House whistleblower ombudsman director The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in MORE (R-Ky.) often does, nor did she devolve into posturing, a la former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.). His response to Clinton's testimony was a series of "zingers" on Twitter, like "Better odds: Hillary telling the truth in her Benghazi Committee testimony, or that Nigerian prince wiring me money?" Given the national security issues at stake, and the fact that four Americans died at Benghazi, this attempt at humor was neither appropriate nor statesmanlike.

Sure, Clinton's Benghazi testimony may not change anyone's opinion about her tenure as secretary of State. And we may never know everything about the failures in intelligence in Libya that led to tragedy. But the Benghazi hearing did give us a view of a polished and assured potential leader. Under relentless questioning, Clinton did not seem evasive and was never anything less than poised and respectful. As day turned to night, she remained serious and focused. Meanwhile, a new poll shows that a majority of Americans viewed the hearings as an attempt to damage Clinton's presidential hopes. If that is indeed true, Thursday's hearing was a colossal failure for the Republican members of the committee.

Clinton deserves praise for passing an unparalleled political endurance test. Instead of weakening the Democratic front-runner, the GOP has only strengthened her — and made their 2016 field look a lot less presidential by comparison.

Reyes is an attorney and columnist in New York City.