The week before the 2008 presidential election, John McCain and his team realized the odds of success were poor, and the desperation led them to take some unfortunate chances. On Oct. 28, 2008, the Republican campaign launched a rather ugly attack ad condemning Barack Obama for his willingness to talk to Iran without preconditions.
The commercial was widely panned as "inflammatory nonsense" and "stupid," but it nevertheless drove home the fact that in Republican circles, diplomatic engagement with Tehran, especially without preconditions, was simply a bridge too far.
More than a decade later, Donald Trump wants the world to know he's seen the reports about his willingness to meet with Iranian leaders without preconditions, and he's eager to set the record straight.
"The Fake News is saying that I am willing to meet with Iran, 'No Conditions.' That is an incorrect statement (as usual!)."
The nerve of those journalists and news organizations. Why would they mislead the public this way? Don't they have reliable sources who can speak to the president's actual foreign policy agenda? Where'd the media get this idea?
The trouble started three months ago, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, abandoning his previous position, announced publicly that the Trump administration was prepared to negotiate with Iranian leaders with "no preconditions."
A few weeks later, the president himself appeared on NBC's Meet the Press, and told Chuck Todd, in reference to talks with Iran, "No preconditions."
A month later, in July, Trump said at a White House press conference, in reference to Iranian diplomacy, "No preconditions. If they want to meet, I'll meet. Anytime they want.... No preconditions. If they want to meet, I'll meet."
A day later, White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley confirmed that Trump was prepared to meet with Iranian leaders without preconditions.
Meanwhile, last Tuesday, Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin hosted a White House press briefing in which they each assured reporters that the president was ready to meet with Iran "with no preconditions."
Maybe Trump forgot his position on the issue. Maybe he's changed his mind and wants to take a Sharpie to the existing record. Maybe the president has come to believe his position is newly controversial, which led him to think it's time to start gaslighting the public.
Whatever the motivation, the media reported on the administration's position because the administration spent months telling us its position.