"It's somewhere in between naive and unrealistic to assume that after we've, the United States of America, has negotiated something like this with the five other, you know, parties and with the whole world community watching, that we could back away from that -- and that the others would go with us, or even that our allies would go with us," Paulson said during a forum sponsored by the Aspen Institute on Thursday night to discuss his new book on China. "And unilateral sanctions don't work, okay?" Paulson continued. "They really have to be multilateral."
At last count, the number of congressional Republican supporting the international nuclear agreement with Iran is exactly zero. But away from Capitol Hill, it's a very different story.
For example, former Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, used to be seen as one of the most influential voices in GOP politics on matters of international affairs. With that in mind, it matters that Lugar doesn't want to see the Iran deal derailed, putting him sharply at odds with his former colleagues in Congress.
Brent Scowcroft, a veteran National Security Advisor to several Republican presidents, who also served as the chairman of George W. Bush's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, has also expressed support for the deal.
And then there's former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. As the Washington Post reported, he sounds a little annoyed by the inanity of his own party's talking points, which he recognizes as wrong.
In fairness, Paulson did not explicitly endorse the diplomatic agreement, but as the Post's report makes clear, the high-profile Bush/Cheney cabinet member doesn't much like what he's hearing from the GOP.
"I had a seat in Washington when we dealt with a big, intractable, messy problem, where there weren't any neat, beautiful, elegant solutions," Paulson said. "You were deciding between doing something that was objectionable or doing nothing at all, which could even be more objectionable."
He added, "So I don't particularly like it when people criticize something that's big and important that's been done if they don't have a better idea."
Obviously, none of these Republicans get an actual vote on whether to kill the international agreement. But it's a reminder that when it comes to the Iran debate, it's a mistake to assume that everyone in the GOP is marching in lockstep.
Rather, what we see is a familiar gap: what Republican lawmakers believe isn't necessarily in line with what all Republicans believe.
And this dynamic is by no means limited to the Iran deal. Literally every congressional Republican opposed the 2009 Recovery Act that rescued the economy from the Great Recession, but there were Republican governors and former officials who supported the stimulus. Literally every congressional Republican opposed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, but outside of Congress, the reform package enjoyed some GOP backers.
If a Republican lawmaker from the party's governing wing were interested in supporting the Iran deal, he or she certainly has plenty of cover from the likes of Lugar, Scowcroft, and Paulson. It's unlikely any members will take advantage -- GOP leaders are very likely cracking the whip pretty aggressively -- but the cover is there if any Republicans want it.