The remaining Republican presidential hopefuls clashed fiercely over Iran's nuclear ambitions in the final debate, on Dec. 15, before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, with Ron Paul clearly staking out a position of nonintervention at odds with the others. By some measures, though, both sides are out of step with GOP voters on the issue.
Republican voters also appear to lack an appetite for engaging Iran militarily at the moment, at least while diplomacy is an alternative.
Americans are not fond of Iran. Half the public sees Iran as an enemy, a number that peaked among Republicans in a national CNN/ORC International poll this spring. Nearly seven in 10 Republicans called Iran's nuclear efforts a very serious threat to national security in a Quinnipiac University poll, and a similar percentage rated sanctions against the country as ineffective. Half of Republicans in that poll backed military action to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, and nearly two in three supported such action if sanctions were unsuccessful.
But Paul's preference for diplomacy is also shared by many Republicans. More than six in 10 picked "economic and diplomatic efforts" as the best Iran policy right now, according to a November CNN/ORC survey; fewer than one in four chose military action. Paul's call for eschewing sanctions in favor of free trade agreements, however, stands in stark contrast with his fellow partisans, who see Iran as a genuine threat and an enemy. Over nine in 10 Republicans in a 2010 Pew Research Center poll approved of increasing sanctions in an effort to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
The schism reflects a central challenge for Paul in winning his party's nomination. In a long-standing trend tracked by the Pew Research Center most recently this spring, by nearly 2-to-1 Americans see diplomacy rather than military strength as the best way to ensure peace, but Republicans see the military as more important than diplomacy.
To reduce the deficit, Paul proposes cutting "military spending, not defense," contending that a reduced presence around the world will not weaken America's military might. Nearly four in 10 Republicans and GOP-leaning independents (39 percent) supported reducing military spending in an October Washington Post-Bloomberg poll, but more, 56 percent, were opposed.