The Trumped-Up Iran Protest
When I arrived to the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol for the “Stop the Iran Nuclear Deal” rally, the star of the show had not yet appeared.
Rep. David Brat, an anti-establishment insurgent who felled the mighty Eric Cantor, was reminding his audience why the GOP establishment feared the grassroots. Assembled before him, several hundred tea partiers and conservative activists—their number bolstered by journalists and bemused tourists—braved humid weather to urge Congress to reject diplomacy and détente. One popular sign stated crisply: “What About ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel’ Do You Not Understand?”
Next up, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy Frank Gaffney wove fever dreams about the threat of a nuclear Iran. Gaffney, a former Reagan administration insider who has reinvented himself as a leading Islamophobe, rattled off the names of top military brass who’d signed a petition against the deal. He assured the crowd that an intense lobbying campaign continued despite reports that the president has sufficient support to avoid an embarrassing veto.
Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder and president of the Tea Party Patriots—the rally’s host organization—welcomed Michael Pregent, executive director of Veterans Against the Deal. Pregent, a former Army officer, acknowledged that he’d be brief: “Hey, I’m gonna get rushed off stage because I’ve got a senator behind me, and then I’ve got Mr. Trump behind me.” The modest crowd erupted at the Donald’s name.
Speaking for only two minutes, Pregent may have made the day’s most profound statement. Having reminded “Mr. Trump” that his organization requires money to fund its mission, Pregent started to explain to the audience that “When we speak to senators, if they don’t know who Qassem Soleimani…” Then he paused and asked “Do you know who he is?” More cheers and scattered answers of “Yes!” greeted mention of the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force.
Pregent continued: “If a senator or politician doesn’t know who Qassem Soleimani is, they can’t vote for this deal. If they know who he is, they won’t vote for this deal.”
This came less than one week after Donald Trump revealed on The Hugh Hewitt Show that he hadn’t the foggiest idea who Soleimani is or what the Quds Force does. When pressed by the radio host, Trump had blundered on about the Kurds.
Unfortunately, the irony of Pregent’s statement was lost as the raucous chorus of The Who’s “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” blared over the PA and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) took the stage.
Cruz spoke for nearly 20 minutes, hammering his favorite talking point about how this deal makes the Obama administration “the world’s largest financier of radical Islamic terrorism.” The crowd booed and hissed when he mentioned, by name, members of Republican leadership, and they applauded the predictable jingoisms.
But the audience had gathered for red meat and Ted Cruz was only the appetizer. Trump was their main course.
The speakers sparked up and Michael Stipe’s voice boomed “It’s the end of the world as we know it! It’s the end of the world as we know it! It’s the end of the world as we know it!” Event organizers lowered the volume, apparently content to omit the parenthetical that follows the song’s refrain (“And I feel fine”), lest they restore sanity.
Say what you will about Donald Trump, he makes the most of his limelight. Speaking for only five minutes (about a quarter of the time it took Ted Cruz to make his point), Trump informed his audience that “We are led by very, very stupid people” who negotiated the Iran deal “incompetently.” “We lose everywhere,” he told them, “We can’t beat ISIS. We can’t beat anybody. Give me a break.” (A voice in the crowd replied “Yes we can!” in one of the oddest and most oblivious throwbacks to any campaign slogan.)
He continued: “It will change. We will have so much winning if I get elected, you may get bored with winning.” Applause mounted. “I agree,” he assured them, “You’ll never get bored with winning. We never get bored!” At he reached crescendo, Trump unveiled a convenient fiction: “We’re going to have such a strong military that nobody… nobody… is going to mess with us. We’re not going to have to use it.” With that, he thanked the crowd, repeated his campaign slogan, and left.
As I turned to leave, talk radio host Mark Levin was taking the stage, but a steady stream was already heading for the exits.
At the gates, members of Code Pink shouted into a portable mic and speaker “One, two, three, four, we don’t want an Iran war… five, six, seven, eight, the Iran deal is really great.”
Across First Street, orthodox representatives of the Anti-Zionist World Jewry murmured in unison, “Zionism… no. Judaism… yes.”
Clearly the rally would go on—the sideshows, too—but there wasn’t any topping the main event.
Reid Smith writes from Washington, D.C.