On Morning Joe today, Donald Trump staked out another position that could — or at least should — force a real debate among Republicans that previously might have remained mostly walled off from discussion by GOP orthodoxy. This time the topic was Iran.
Trump all but ridiculed his GOP rivals for their claim that on Day One, they would promptly tear up the Iran deal into little pieces and flush them down the toilet, along with the rest of the Obama presidency. Trump said that “life doesn’t work that way,” and vowed instead to do a better job implementing it than anyone else, claiming: “I will be so tough.”
Asked by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius how he’d approach the Iran deal as president, here’s what Trump said:
“I think that it is a disastrous deal in so many ways…we have a horrible contract. But we do have a contract. I love to buy bad contracts when people go bust and I make those contracts good….
“I know it would be very popular for me to do what a couple of them said, ‘we’re gonna rip it up, we’re gonna rip it up.’…
“Iran is gonna be an absolute terror, and it’s horrible that we have to live with it. Nevertheless, we have a contract. We lost the power of sanctions because all of these other folks, these other countries that are with us are gone now, and by the way, making money…everybody is involved now with Iran selling themselves. We’re probably going to be the only ones that won’t be selling them anything….
“I will make that agreement so tough. And if they break it, they will have hell to pay….Politically, and certainly for the nomination, I would love to tell you that I’m gonna rip up this contract, I’m going to be the toughest guy in the world. But you know what? Life doesn’t work that way.”
Buried in that rambling monologue is an actual argument: unilaterally scrapping the Iran agreement is a pipe dream that would have all kinds of negative consequences, leaving the U.S. isolated, as our allies would not see it in their interests to reimpose sanctions; claiming you’d rip up the deal is politically pleasing, but it is an illusory posture of “toughness”; the more responsible and genuinely “tough” position is to vow to implement the deal with extreme vigilance against Iran cheating.
Thus far, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio have both vowed to scrap the Iran deal immediately. When Jeb Bush took the preposterous step of questioning whether this is realistic, it sparked a skirmish between him and Walker that approximated an actual debate. Now Trump has gone further than Jeb in suggesting that on Iran, his rivals are, well, full of it.
As I have argued, Trump’s willingness to say things other Republicans won’t has forced out into the open real policy debates among Republicans that had previously remained shrouded in deliberate vagueness for political reasons or off limits due to party dogma. His call for mass deportations has unmasked GOP evasions over what to do about the 11 million, forcing an actual debate on that question. His call for raising taxes on capital gains — in contrast with his rivals — may test the proposition that GOP primary voters want their candidates to support reducing the tax burden of the rich.
On Iran, most of the GOP candidates — whatever their substantive objections to the deal — seem to be operating from the premise that they are dogmatically required to vow to undo it on Day One. But is that really required? Matthew Dowd, a senior adviser to George W. Bush, has suggested that the better political argument might be that only a GOP president can be trusted to implement it with the proper vigilance.
Indeed, on Morning Joe, the Post’s Ignatius suggested: “Trump has just stated what will become by the end of the campaign the consensus Republican position.” Maybe, maybe not. One hopes, at least, that the GOP candidates will be asked to respond to the (relative) logic of Trump’s argument as to why vowing to scrap the deal is absurd and what might constitute a more realistic GOP position, and we’ll get a real debate on this, too.
* HOW ISRAEL TRIED TO DERAIL IRAN DEAL: The Wall Street Journal offers a remarkable behind-the-scenes account of how aggressively Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli officials worked Congress to try to sink the Iran agreement:
Both supporters and opponents say they can’t recall any other foreign government inserting itself so directly into an American political debate….The high-stakes Israeli campaign has left the White House infuriated and many Democrats resentful….It is common for foreign governments to lobby U.S. lawmakers on a wide range of issues. But administration and congressional officials said the Israeli effort, and its partisan nature, went far beyond the norm.
Indeed, it may be that the Israeli campaign, combined with Republican encouragement of it, helped make this debate even more partisan, pushing Democrats into the supporting camp.
* MORE DECENT ECONOMIC NEWS: The August jobs numbers are in:
Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 173,000 in August, and the unemployment rate edged down to 5.1 percent…in August, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 8 cents to $25.09, following a 6-cent gain in July. Hourly earnings have risen by 2.2 percent.
The unemployment rate is at a “seven-year low.” Economist Justin Wolfers tweets “How long until we hear the words ‘Obama boom.’ Seriously. We now have a record 66 straight months of private-sector jobs growth.”
* BIDEN AGONIZES OVER PRESIDENTIAL RUN: Bloomberg News reports that Joe Biden opened up about his deliberations to an audience last night:
“Can my family undertake what is an arduous commitment that we’d be proud to undertake in ordinary circumstances?…The honest-to-God answer is I just don’t know….If I can reach that conclusion and we can do it in a fashion that would still make it viable, I would not hesitate to do it. But…,I can’t look you straight in the eye and say now I know I can do it.”
That doesn’t sound like someone who is going to run, but who knows.
* TRUMP STUMBLES THROUGH FOREIGN POLICY INTERVIEW: Time magazine reports on a disastrous interview in which Donald Trump repeatedly repealed his ignorance of foreign policy, “appearing to conflate the Kurdish people with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s overseas force” and proving “unable to distinguish between Hamas, the U.S.-designated Sunni terrorist group that controls Gaza, and Hezbollah, the Shiite group.”
Asked when he’d bone up, Trump replied, “when it’s appropriate…it won’t take me long.” Just like he’d deport 11 million easily and replace Obamacare with “something terrific.” All that’s needed to resolve enormously complex policy challenges is a business guy who gets stuff done. At some point, the bluster will stop working. Presumably.
* ABOUT THAT LOYALTY PLEDGE TRUMP SIGNED: Brian Beutler delivers the bad news to Republicans:
The fact that he was willing to sign the pledge at all should alarm Republicans more than it soothes them. Trump wasn’t communicating to the party that its knock against him for threatening an independent run has been effective. To the contrary, it’s that he doesn’t think the threat is necessary anymore — that he’s now genuinely well-positioned to win the primary, rather than an insurgent threat who can be neutralized by party heavyweights….It is now easy to imagine Trump eclipsing 40 percent of the vote before the primaries begin, and ripping up that pledge if a panicky Republican Party responds by erecting obstacles to his victory.
Indeed. Trump said yesterday that in exchange for signing the pledge, he’d secured a vow that Republicans will treat him “fairly.” Who gets to define what that means?
* TRUMP’S RATINGS JUMP AMONG REPUBLICANS: Gallup finds that Trump’s net favorable ratings have jumped an astonishing 16 points since the first half of August. And who knows how many more ways of insulting immigrants Trump still has in his arsenal!
* AND HERE’S THE LATEST OUT OF KENTUCKY: The AP reports:
BREAKING: With defiant county clerk behind bars, gay Kentucky couple receives marriage license.
Reminder: hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of southern counties have been issuing marriage licenses to gay couples; only a handful continue resisting.