Republicans Shot Themselves in the Foot Over Iran

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Why did Republicans fail to kill the Iran nuclear deal?

Opponents of the deal may have miscalculated the degree of public interest in the debate. They hoped for the kind of outpouring of public anger that gave rise to the tea party and nearly doomed Obamacare in August 2010. But the Iran deal “just hasn’t had that kind of galvanizing effect” on the public, said Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), who backs the agreement.

….A Republican invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address both houses of Congress in March appears to have backfired. His harsh denunciation of the negotiations then underway, which the White House portrayed as a snub of Obama’s foreign policy, made the debate more polarizing and partisan, pushing Democrats to the president’s side.

Another factor, said one frustrated Republican on Capitol Hill: “Trump happened.” The GOP leadership aide, granted anonymity to discuss the setback, said billionaire Donald Trump’s attention-grabbing presidential campaign, along with scrutiny of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s email server, overshadowed all other issues this summer, making it harder for the Republicans’ message to attract attention.

….Democrats have felt free to back the deal in part because they heard from many in the American Jewish community who split from the more hawkish AIPAC….The dozen or so Democratic opponents in Congress come mainly from parts of New York, New Jersey and Florida with large politically conservative Jewish populations. But the opponents failed to mount a serious effort to persuade other lawmakers to buck the White House.

First things first: don’t blame this on Donald Trump. He’s been scathing about the deal, and has probably drawn more attention to it than all the AIPAC-funded ads put together. As for Hillary Clinton’s email woes, it would please me no end if Republicans had shot themselves in the foot by focusing the fever swamps on that and leaving no room for outrage about Iran. But I doubt it. There’s always stuff going on. Nobody ever fights a political battle in a pristine environment. There was plenty of room for Iran outrage.

As it happens, though, I think Republicans did shoot themselves in the foot, but in a different way. Ever since 2009, their political strategy has been relentless and one-dimensional: oppose everything President Obama supports, instantly and unanimously. They certainly followed this playbook on Iran. Republicans were slamming the deal before the text was even released, and virtually none of them even pretended to be interested in the merits of the final agreement. Instead, they formed a united, knee-jerk front against the deal practically before the ink was dry.

This did two things. First, it made them look unserious. From the beginning, the whole point of the economic sanctions against Iran was to use them as leverage to pressure the Iranian leadership to approve a nuclear deal. But by opposing it so quickly—based on an obviously specious desire for a “better deal” that they were never willing to spell out—Republicans made it clear that they opposed any agreement that lifted the sanctions. In other words, they opposed any agreement, period.

Second, by forming so quickly, the Republican wall of opposition turned the Iran agreement into an obviously partisan matter. Once they did that, they made it much harder for Democrats to oppose a president of their own party. A more deliberate approach almost certainly would have helped them pick up more Democratic votes.

All that said, keep in mind that Democrats only needed 34 senators or 145 House members to guarantee passage. That’s not a high bar for a historic deal backed by a Democratic president. In other words, it’s quite possible that Republicans actually did nothing wrong. They simply never had a chance in the first place.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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