These Republicans thought Paul was just making stuff up about the IAEA report. He wasn’t. Bachmann claimed that the report put Iran “within just months” of nuclear power status. It doesn’t — you can read it here.
I won’t claim that being right on the merits of an issue is always a political advantage, but I still don’t see how it can hurt Paul to demonstrate that he knows more about the issue than his pro-war rivals. It shouldn’t help any of the pro-war candidates that the core of Bachmann’s rebuttal was false, as were several other claims she made during the exchange. Why should Iowa caucus-goers, even very conservative, hawkish ones, reward candidates who support military action when they don’t have a firm grasp of the relevant facts? Of course, that assumes that they are going to learn that Bachmann was in error and Paul was correct, and it’s not as if most conservative media outlets are going to announce this to the world.
Iowa caucus-goers are typically more conservative than the GOP as a whole, and insofar as self-styled conservatives are more likely to favor attacking Iran it is reasonable to assume that they are more supportive of military action than the average Republican, but how much of that support is based on baseless demagoguery of the sort we heard last night? In other words, how deep does support for attacking Iran go among rank-and-file Republican voters and activists? If it is fairly shallow, it is possible that many of them could be swayed by an argument for restraint. If the issue is not very important to many caucus-goers, it is possible that Paul’s credibility as a fiscal and economic conservative could trump any doubts they have about Paul because of foreign policy.
Each time Paul gets into a head-to-head contest with one of his hawkish rivals, we hear that it will doom his candidacy, but in practice these clashes energize his current supporters and draw more attention to his candidacy. Everyone seems to assume that Paul cannot afford attracting attention to his foreign policy views, but I suspect that Paul’s decision to stand his ground against unnecessary war will serve him well. What he needs to do is to keep making the distinction between his support for strong national defense and his rivals’ support for unnecessary wars whenever this subject comes up in the next few weeks. Emphasize the disastrous economic effects that attacking Iran would have, and make clear that opposition to attacking Iran is a matter of protecting American and global economic recovery from any new shocks. The other thing to do is to point to the poor judgment of all the other candidates in their support for the Iraq war, contrast that with his opposition from the beginning, and then argue that the others should not be trusted to make decisions about war and peace after having erred so badly in the past.