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Those Expecting a Circus at Trump’s Anti-Iran Rally Got Just the Opposite

Those expecting a circus at the Trump-Cruz anti-Iran rally came away disappointed.

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All of the trappings for a wild afternoon in Washington were present as Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump and his new wingman, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, rallied opponents of the Iran nuclear deal in front of the U.S. Capitol. A man wearing a Captain America costume waved an enormous American flag. Another held a sign reading “Impeach Hussein Obama, Prosecute Hillary.” Tea Party Patriots mingled with members of the pro-Israel Zionist Organization of America; both groups co-hosted the rally. Counterprotesters gathered nearby, singing pro-peace songs as the temperature soared into the mid-90s, a weather condition that often shortens tempers. But anyone expecting a circus came away disappointed.

In interviews with Foreign Policy, many of those who came out to support the real estate mogul proved to be knowledgeable about the issue they were protesting and just as angry at Republican leaders as they were at President Barack Obama. And Trump and Cruz were a powerful one-two punch on the dais.

Those at the rally appeared to be mainly white, but varied in age from teenagers to senior citizens. Not all of them were there because they supported Trump, though it’s hard to argue against his rock-star appeal: When he took the stage, a man behind me gasped, “Oh, look, Donald’s here.” The protesters FP spoke with expressed two primary emotions: fear that the Iran deal would make the world less safe and anger at both Obama and Republican lawmakers, including Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

The only real moments of drama came when members of a pro-immigration group were escorted away during Trump’s speech after chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go” and when a minor verbal confrontation broke out between protesters from Code Pink and a tattooed man who makes parts for motorcycles and describes himself as a machinist from Los Angeles.

Instead, the gathering resembled a traditional political rally, though an unlikely one. It’s rare for two Republican rivals — Cruz, who invited Trump, is also running for president, though he remains far behind Trump in the polls — to team up so early on in a primary season. Both men used the occasion to color U.S. politicians in unflattering terms.

Cruz took the stage first and pulled few punches when attacking the Iran pact, calling it “catastrophic” and warning that it would make the Obama administration “quite literally the world’s leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism.” The Texan senator said Congress should not vote on the deal until it has had a chance to review separate agreements between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran that account for past military uses of Tehran’s nuclear program.

Cruz said those who support the agreement would have blood on their hands, calling out Boehner and McConnell by name.

“If this deal goes through, we know to an absolute certainty people will die. Americans will die; Israelis will die; Europeans will die,” Cruz said, adding that the agreement “is the single greatest national security threat facing America.”

Then it was Trump’s turn to take the stage, and he didn’t mince words when it came to his views of U.S. politicians.

“We are led by very, very stupid people. Very, very stupid people. We cannot let it continue,” Trump said, not long after taking the stage to the R.E.M. song lyrics “It’s the end of the world as we know it.” “It will change. We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with winning.”  

He also warned that the nuclear pact with Iran would have disastrous consequences for Israel, one of America’s many allies in the region opposed to the deal. Trump alleged that the United States would be giving Tehran $150 billion in sanctions relief — most experts put the figure far lower. Trump said he would secure the release of four hostages held by the Iranian regime “before I ever take office.”

“So, they rip us off, they take our money, they make us look like fools, and now they’re back to being who they really are,” Trump continued. “With incompetent leadership like we have right now, Israel will not survive.”

Trump’s brief speech lacked specifics on how he would deal with Tehran; he said Cruz “and everybody else have gone through all of the details.” But he said he has “been doing deals for a long time” and has yet to see one as bad as the nuclear accord.

“I’ve been making lots of wonderful deals, great deals, that’s what I do,” Trump said. “Never ever, ever in my life have I seen any transaction so incompetently negotiated as our deal with Iran. And I mean never.”

Former secretary of state and current Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton was far from the minds of the people at the rally. Diane DeLaura, who said she traveled from Arizona to attend, was of the many for whom the Trump-Cruz partnership was the highlight of the afternoon.

“They have a bromance,” DeLaura told FP, a comment later echoed by Trump when he said there’s “a little bit of a romance. I like him. He likes me.” The two embraced when Trump replaced the college debate champion at the podium.

DeLaura was there with Debbie Schroeder and Rose Prescott, who also said they are from Arizona. They stood under an umbrella to protect themselves from the sweltering heat and brought along an inflated punching bag with an image of Obama in boxing shorts decorating its front. Prescott invited me to take a swing; I declined.

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“I’m not pro-Obama, that’s for sure,” Schroeder told FP. “We’re here to protest the deal even though it’s a done deal,” she added, referring to the fact that Obama secured enough votes in the Senate to block a disapproval resolution on Tuesday.

“I like [Trump] because he’s standing up to the party,” she added.

Then, on the fringes of the rally, raised voices could be heard. I walked to the source and found a small group of Code Pink protesters — I counted around 30 — singing John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” J.D. Braun, the tattooed machinist who said he makes spare parts for Harley-Davidson and traveled to Washington from Los Angeles, countered with alternative lyrics, as you can see in the video below (warning: language is NSFW).

As he walked back to the main stage, Braun said he hasn’t decided whether he’ll support Trump, but he attended the rally because he fears the consequences of the agreement. “Iran wants to kill all the freedom-loving people in the world,” he told FP.

When Trump was done speaking, I asked a man who identified himself as Walt, who said he was 37 and from Northern Virginia, whether he was moved by the event.

“We had been sitting on the political fence long enough,” he said. “I support Trump, but I haven’t made my mind up either way.”

Others were more enthusiastic about the outsider candidate.

“I like Trump. I like Cruz, but I love Trump,” Bill Crowl, a man who said he is from Hagerstown, Maryland, told me. “I’m not for this Iran deal.”

Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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