With Eye on 2016, Republican Candidates Slam Iran Deal

Stance may help GOP candidates score points among the conservatives who tend to vote in Republican presidential primaries, but it could be less effective with general election.

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Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during a campaign event at a Harley-Davidson dealership Tuesday, July 14, 2015, in Las Vegas.
Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during a campaign event at a Harley-Davidson dealership Tuesday, July 14, 2015, in Las Vegas. Credit: AP

The Iran nuclear deal was only a few hours old when Republican presidential hopefuls in the U.S. began vowing to overturn it.

The stance may help them score points among the conservatives who tend to vote in Republican presidential primaries, but it could be less effective with general election.

The contrast was clear with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, who quickly embraced the deal publicly and privately in a series of meetings with Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill. In a statement issued Tuesday night, she said the briefings she had received and a review of the documents led her to support the agreement.

"It can help us prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon," she said. "With vigorous enforcement, unyielding verification and swift consequences for any violations, this agreement can make the United States, Israel and our Arab partners safer."

At roughly the same time Clinton was on Capitol Hill, Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was predicting that the agreement "will be remembered as one of America's worst diplomatic failures." Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who, like Walker, has vowed to rescind the agreement should he be elected president, charged that "this deal undermines our national security."

The partisan divide reflects voters' ambivalence over how to counter Iran's nuclear ambitions, experts said.

"The cognitive dissonance of the American public on this issue — longstanding distrust of Iran balanced by dislike of new Middle Eastern entanglements — means we are not likely to see a lot of candidates gaining traction on Iran," said Suzanne Maloney, a former State Department staffer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington. "The Republicans who seem to be eager to use this as a campaign issue are going to have difficulty persuading people there is an alternative that is more viable and has a credible outcome."

A group supporting Rubio released a television ad touting his opposition in an effort to burnish his conservative credentials. Campaigning in Iowa, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush called Obama's actions "naive and wrong."

"We've created, legitimized, Iran being a nuclear threshold country, and that in and of itself creates huge instability in the region," Bush said.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who has been skeptical of U.S. intervention in the Middle East, said the deal was "unacceptable" and that he'd vote against it. "Better to keep the interim agreement in place instead of accepting a bad deal," Paul wrote on Twitter.

Robert Fulton, a 68-year-old Vietnam veteran in a dark muscle shirt emblazoned with a skull, vented at the deal Tuesday at a motorcycle dealership in Las Vegas where Walker was campaigning.

"They were talking about fixing a chicken coop and they gave them the whole damn farm," Fulton said. Iran, he added, "is the largest exporter of terrorism in the world."

Walker took the stage and noted that a childhood friend, Kevin Hermening, the youngest of the 52 Americans taken hostage in Iran in 1979, had been a guest at his announcement speech. "We need a president who will terminate that bad deal with Iran on day one," Walker said. "I will put in place crippling economic sanctions on Iran and I will convince our allies to do the same."

Neither Walker nor any of his Republican rivals offered clear alternatives to the Iran deal. Yet by condemning the pact, they continue to link Clinton, the former secretary of state, to Obama in an effort to motivate their base and capitalize on voter fatigue after eight years of Democratic occupancy of the White House.

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