Earlier this week, President Obama held a press conference in Ethiopia and took a moment to marvel at the recklessness of Republican rhetoric surrounding the international nuclear agreement with Iran. He specifically noted Mike Huckabee’s Holocaust rhetoric – it “would be considered ridiculous if it weren’t so sad” – but Obama also highlight the larger pattern.
“We’ve had a sitting senator call John Kerry Pontius Pilate,” the president noted. “We’ve had a sitting senator who also happens to be running for president suggest that I’m the leading state sponsor of terrorism. These are leaders in the Republican Party.” Obama added that, historically, officials used to recognize “that these issues are too serious, that issues of war and peace are of such grave concern and consequence that we don’t play fast and loose that way.”
The “Pontius Pilate” reference came from right-wing freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), but it was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who threw around the “sponsor of terrorism” nonsense. In fact, the GOP presidential candidate specifically told far-right activists, “If this deal goes through, without exaggeration, the Obama administration will become the world’s leading state sponsor and financier of radical Islamic terrorism.”
As Politico noted, Cruz liked his rhetoric so much, he repeated it soon after.
According to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran is essentially financing terrorism. And he’s not backing down after the president called his comments “outrageous.”“If this deal is consummated, it will make the Obama administration the world’s leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism,” Cruz said during a round table Tuesday. “Billions of dollars under control of this administration will flow into the hands of jihadists who will use that money to murder Americans, to murder Israelis, to murder Europeans.”
This morning, even Mitt Romney said Cruz was going too far. “I am opposed to the Iran deal,” the former GOP presidential nominee said, “but [Cruz] is way over the line on the Obama terrorism charge.” Romney added that such rhetoric “hurts the cause.”
That last point is of particular interest.
Crackpot rhetoric from extremist politicians has, of course, become quite common, and given the rules of contemporary politics, there are rarely any consequences at all for officials’ recklessness, at least on the Republican side. On the contrary, the opposite is generally true – radicalism is rewarded with improved poll numbers, more media appearances, and a boost in fundraising.
But in the debate over the international nuclear agreement, GOP leaders have already circled the far-right wagons and sent word to the base that they’re supposed to oppose the Iran deal. What Republicans need, however, is a whole lot of allies.
In fact, it’s a simple matter of arithmetic: if Congress is going to kill the diplomatic agreement, the far-right is going to have to persuade dozens of congressional Democrats to betray the White House, ignore the Democratic base, and reject the advice of nuclear and diplomatic experts.
That won’t be easy – indeed, the effort is likely to fail – but on this, Romney’s correct. Put it this way: how likely do you think it is that congressional Democrats will hear hysterical garbage from the likes of Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Tom Cotton, and their allies, and think to themselves, “Yeah, I want to align myself with those clowns”?
For Cruz, it’s likely this doesn’t matter. He’s running for president; he’s looking for attention; he’s making right-wing extremists happy; and whether he’s helping his party’s agenda is of no real consequence. But I suspect Romney isn’t the only one in the GOP who wishes the radical Texas senator was a little more responsible.