Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton drafted plans to aggressively campaign on the comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran after it was announced last summer, but quietly abandoned the tactic as the deal grew more unpopular among the electorate, according to leaked campaign strategy documents.
The plan, outlined by Team Clinton in a July 25, 2015 strategy memo, would have involved deluging the media with positive stories praising the deal and crediting Clinton for originating and pushing it. The plan was shelved as the agreement’s popularity plummeted over the next few months and hardened into broad public disapproval.
Instead, campaign staffers began emphasizing distance between Clinton and the deal’s final terms, even as the former secretary of state publicly states the agreement was necessary, mirroring a broad trend during the election in which Democrats avoid bringing up the deal, according to multiple sources who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.
The July 2015 strategy document was released as part of a series of hacks posted on the website WikiLeaks. The U.S. director of national intelligence and the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security have accused “Russia’s senior-most officials” of hacking and leaking emails posted to Wikileaks and other sites in order to influence the 2016 election.
The document revealed that senior Clinton staff aimed to position the candidate as a global leader due to her role in shaping the nuclear deal.
Clinton campaign officials were worried at the time that the former secretary of state had left the Obama administration with too few accomplishments under her belt, according to the memo.
“Use Iran as a case study for both her accomplishments and the political process story on our turning their attack into a positive,” the strategy document states. “This could include an op-ed on the case for Iran, stories around how she started this whole process, activating key diplomatic voices on TV and in other outlets to show her work.”
As public opposition to the deal set in, Clinton and her supporters began pointing to differences between her diplomatic positions and what was ultimately in the deal. The White House, on the other hand, pursued an aggressive campaign to promote the deal in what senior officials described as a pro-Iran “echo chamber.”
Sources broadly believed to have come from Clinton’s camp have told journalists that Secretary of State John Kerry made several early concessions to the Iranians, including granting Tehran a right to enrich uranium, which Iran was forbidden to do at the time under multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Clinton allies also have highlighted a 2014 interview in which the Democratic candidate called for Iran to have zero enrichment at least at the beginning of any deal, and minimal enrichment thereafter.
In October 2015, after the Iran deal had been met with bipartisan disapproval in both the Senate and House of Representatives, Clinton bashed Iran in a speech attacking the National Rifle Association.
“You know, the NRA’s position reminds me of negotiating with the Iranians or the communists. There’s no possible discussion,” Clinton said.
Campaign strategists who spoke to the Free Beacon acknowledged that Clinton shifted tactics on Iran, explaining that the deal’s unpopularity has impacted Democratic candidates across the country.
One Democratic strategist familiar with the Clinton campaign’s thinking on Iran told the Free Beacon that Clinton is committed to enforcing the deal and preventing Iran from making progress on the nuclear front.
“As Hillary has repeatedly affirmed, she will watch every detail of the deal like a hawk and will have a policy of ‘distrust and verify,’” the source said. ‘Even more so than [Donald] Trump–who unlike some of his Republican primary opponents, did not commit to tearing up the agreement on day one–Hillary will not be enamored with the deal making or negotiating. She’ll stick to enforcing the deal’s strongest provisions.”
A senior conservative political operative who has been running polls on the Iran deal noted that it is likely to serve as an albatross for Democrats in the upcoming election cycles.
“We poll on this every few weeks to see if the deal is becoming any less radioactive, but it’s as bad as ever,” the source said. “At this point the only question is whether Democrats are going to be doing damage control through 2018 or all the way through 2020.”
“And that’s going to depend a lot on how convincingly Democrats can run away from the deal,” the operative added.
The Iran deal is likely to play a role in the 2018 and 2020 election cycles, according to Nathan Klein, lead pollster and founder of Olive Tree Strategies.
“Republicans were already headed for a good year electorally in 2018, but with the Iran Deal we are now targeting double-digit Senate pick-ups,” he said.
Klein predicted that in 2018, at least 13 of the 25 Democratic Senate seats up for grabs could be competitive. At least 12 of these vulnerable candidates supported the Iran deal and are likely to be faced with questions about it.
Source: Free Beacon