A dispute has erupted between Scott Walker and Jeb Bush over how to handle the task of undoing Obama’s Iran deal as president, with Bush hinting that Walker is approaching the issue with a lack of maturity, and Walker suggesting that Bush is not zealous enough about confronting the enemy.
Walker is also saying that it’s “very possible” the next president will have to take military action on Day One of his presidency — though it’s unclear whether he means against Iran in particular, or more generally.
The argument says a lot about the two candidates’ differing calculations with regard to the level of nuance GOP primary voters are prepared to entertain about the Iran deal, and more broadly, about foreign policy in general.
But I think the dispute also underscores the point made by David Axelrod last week: That for all the professed GOP confidence about the domestic politics of the agreement, it could prove to be more of a political problem for the GOP presidential candidates than for Hillary Clinton.
The Weekly Standard reports that Bush said this to a voter in Nevada:
“One thing that I won’t do is just say, as a candidate, ‘I’m going to tear up the agreement on the first day.’ That’s great, that sounds great but maybe you ought to check in with your allies first, maybe you ought to appoint a secretary of state, maybe secretary of defense, you might want to have your team in place, before you take an act like that.”
That was a shot at Walker, who has said he would undo an Iran deal on Day One of his presidency, regardless of what our allies have to say about it. Bush subsequently stood by his remarks, noting that on Day One, he would not yet have had the intelligence briefings required to make an informed decision. Bush added: “If you’re running for president, you know, I think it’s important to be mature and thoughtful about this.”
The Weekly Standard report continues thusly:
At a press conference after his appearance at the Family Leader Summit here Saturday, Walker was asked if he thinks Bush is wrong. “He may have his opinion. I believe that a president shouldn’t wait to act until they put a cabinet together or an extended period of time,” Walker said.
“I believe they should be prepared to act on the very first day they take office. It’s very possible – God forbid, but it’s very possible – that the next president could be called to take aggressive actions, including military action, on the first day in office. And I don’t want a president who is not prepared to act on day one. So, as far as me, as far as my position, I’m going to be prepared to be president on day one.”
In a subsequent statement to the Standard, Bush clarified that he thinks the Iran deal is “terrible” and called on Congress to “reject it,” and added:
“Should it be upheld, as President I would begin immediately to responsibly get us out of this deal, with a comprehensive strategy that is responsive to the conditions at the time and confronts Iran’s continued pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, its support for terrorism and instability, its ballistic missile proliferation, and its horrific human rights record.”
The basic difference here appears to be that Walker believes the next president should start the process of undoing the deal on Day One, while Bush is stopping just short of that and hinting that he would go about this more “responsibly,” and with more solicitude towards changing international conditions. Bush apparently believes he can win the GOP primary while offering a (somewhat) more nuanced and “mature” (his word) approach than Walker. The Wisconsin Governor is apparently trying to appeal to GOP primary voters by portraying Bush’s comments as a sign he’d be more resolved towards Iran (and towards undoing Obama’s deal), and more “prepared” as president.
Obviously, if Congress fails to block the deal, and things go wrong, that could rebound badly on Hillary Clinton, who has already signaled she’ll embrace it. But the dispute between Bush and Walker raises another possibility: That the eventual GOP nominee’s position on the Iran deal could prove a lot harder to explain than Republicans think.
Jeb’s suggestion that he will approach the situation based on the conditions of the moment (that’s crazy talk!!!) suggests an awareness of something that Walker may or may not share: Undoing the deal in 2017 could have all sorts of unpleasant consequences that haven’t been sufficiently gamed out yet. As one expert put it recently, it could undermine our relationships with allies in ways that could have “a lot of ripple effects around wherever the U.S. and Europe have security cooperation.”
What’s more, vowing to undo the agreement would put pressure on the GOP nominee to articulate his alternative. As Axelrod argues, if Democrats can successfully make the case that the only alternative to the Iran deal is likely to be war, then supporting the agreement may well end up being the majority position in this country. (A new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that 56 percent of Americans support the deal, though a large majority is skeptical that it will work, suggesting Americans want to give it a try even if success is far from assured.)
Obviously the eventual GOP nominee may not think the consequences that could flow from undoing the deal are all that worrisome, or he may believe that the agreement is so awful that risking those consequences is worth it. But that might prove a tough position to explain, and general election voters might not find it all that persuasive.
UPDATE: A Walker adviser sends over a full transcript of his remarks. It’s not entirely clear whether Walker is referring to the possibility of military action on day one against Iran in particular, or more generally. So I’ve edited the above, just in case he meant the latter.
Still, whatever he meant, the broader point is the same: This dispute between Walker and Bush, over how aggressively to go about undoing the Iran deal, shows that it could create political problems for the GOP nominee, and not necessarily for Hillary Clinton. Here’s the transcript:
Walker: “[…] I believe that this deal with Iran is so bad not just because of its implications regarding Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure, but because we have the premier state sponsor of terrorism now being empowered in that region and by lifting sanctions using economic capacity, as well as the president in terms of his credibility in the world – I think that it’s a bad enough deal that it needs to be terminated right off the bat and I will work with the congress not only to reinstate the already previously authorized sanctions but to work with them to put in place even more crippling sanctions and to convince our allies to do the same. To me I just think it’s a different opinion, and he may have his opinion.
“I believe that a president shouldn’t wait to act until they put a cabinet together or for a certain period of time. I believe that they should be prepared to act on the very first day they take office. It’s very possible, God forbid that this would happen, but it’s very possible that the next president could be called on to take aggressive actions, including military actions, on their very first day in office, and I don’t want a president who is not prepared to act on day one. So as far as me, as far as my position, I’m going to be prepared to be president on day one.”