GOP's '16 clownshow rolls on: Everyone wants a piece of that dumb Tom Cotton letter

Tom Cotton's letter to Iran was a big mistake... so naturally Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry want in!

Published March 11, 2015 2:42PM (EDT)

  (AP/Molly Riley)
(AP/Molly Riley)

The open letter to Iran drafted by freshman Sen. Tom Cotton and signed by 46 of his Republican colleagues was... a bad idea. It has not just been blasted by Senate Democrats, Joe Biden, and the White House. Obviously they are expected to be peeved since the whole point of the letter was to peeve them.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board criticized Cotton and his fellow senators for offering up this "distraction." The New York Daily News ran "TRAITORS" on its cover. The hashtag #47Traitors, as I write this Tuesday afternoon, remains a top trending topic. It should be said that Tom Cotton and pals are not "traitors," and circulating their dumb letter was not an act of treason.

It was, however, clumsy, both in its language and its ability to produce a desired effect. The language was a childish lesson about the structural basics of the United States government. The leaders of Iran have understood how the United States government works since the time Tom Cotton was in diapers. The letter also seemed to downplay, or deny the existence of, the bounds of international law -- something that the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, schooled Cotton on in his reply yesterday. That the Iranian foreign minister has come out of this episode as the cool, rational head is a good indicator of how well Cotton's ploy has worked.

It's also the latest instance of Republicans on Capitol Hill scaring away Democrats who had been willing to work with them on Iran legislation, against the administration's wishes. John Boehner's invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress, and Netanyahu's acceptance of that invitation, sent Democrats fleeing to protect the president. They agreed to delay a vote on imposing a new round of sanctions on Iran that could have sent the Iranians walking. Mitch McConnell's decision to fast-track another bill that would have required congressional approval on a nuclear deal also sent Democrats running, and the vote on that was delayed, too. These are two bills that a couple of months ago appeared to have a decent chance of building veto-proof majorities in both chambers of Congress. And now, after Cotton's stunt, those centrist Democrats may be giving up on their prospects of working on these bills altogether. This is precisely why Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker, one of the few Republican legislators who has an interest in producing actual legislation, didn't sign it.

So Tom Cotton's letter was an affront to the Obama administration that made Iranian negotiators look reasonable, and, instead of scuttling nuclear negotiations, scuttled hopes for Democratic cooperation on legislation to check the administration. It has achieved nothing that Tom Cotton hoped it would achieve and helped achieve everything that he'd hoped it wouldn't. In other words, it was a Bad Idea.

...And since it's a Bad Idea, that means that Republican presidential hopefuls are racing to get a piece of the action.

There's something beautiful about how, as soon as an aggressive tactic is determined to have been very stupid, Bobby Jindal jumps in to claim credit for it:

But Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana and a potential presidential candidate, would like some credit for being out in front on the issue.

“I’ve been saying it for some time now,” Mr. Jindal, who will officially add his name to the letter on Tuesday, said in an interview at a conference of evangelical pastors here the day before.

Mr. Jindal, who dined with the Israeli ambassador, Ron Dermer, a few weeks ago in Louisiana, echoed the argument made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel before Congress last week. He added that the extra pressure on Iran could “impact the quality” of an eventual deal, and that he hoped to have shaped the case put forth by the letter.

But was he first?

“I suspect so,” he said. “Like I said, we’ve been saying it for a while.”

Sure enough, Tom Cotton's office sent out a statement Tuesday announcing that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's name had been added to the list of 47 senators. You can bet that once that Zarif huckster sees Jindal's name on there, he's going to cave and give the United States 100% of its demands, and then Iran will fold as a country, and then we'll bomb them anyway, for freedom.

And shortly after Jindal's name was added, another longshot candidate who's doing his best to pretend that he knows anything about foreign policy reached out and asked to be on the letter, too.

[embedtweet id="575363838347870209"]

(This links to his hilarious Facebook video from last week where he tries to speak coherently about foreign policy for three minutes. It's amazing, if you haven't watch it yet.)

Cotton's letter is going to look worse and worse with each passing day. Meaning, with each passing day, there's going to be more and more pressure for each Republican presidential hopeful who hasn't already signed on to do so as well.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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