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A warning from Republicans: President Obama only struck a deal with Iran on its nuclear program so that you'd stop paying attention to the Obamacare rollout. If that was actually the president's plan — which, of course, it wasn't — it hasn't been super-effective, given how mixed the response to the Iran deal has been.

The No. 2 ranking Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn of Texas, launched this line of thinking early Sunday morning, tweeting in the wake of the deal's announcement that Obama was trying to "distract attention" from his health care law. (This echoed the argument Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made in response to the Democrats' decision to undermine the filibuster: just a ploy to talk about something besides Healthcare.gov.)

Monday morning on Fox and Friends, Fox News' Bret Baier picked up the baton, as Mediaite notes.

“Don’t you think it’s a little curious– you know, some of my friends were talking over the weekend, ‘Oh, isn’t that curious timing?” [host] Steve Doocy began. “Out of nowhere in the midst of Obamacare not unrolling correctly, the president’s poll numbers never been lower, then look, [Secretary of State] John Kerry pulls a rabbit out of his hat and changes the subject.”

“Yes,” Baier replied. “It is questionable timing.”

With their next breath, the pair note that the deal had been in the making for a long time — perhaps originating, Politico reports, even while Secretary of State John Kerry was still in the Senate. Cornyn's equivalent in the House, Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy, has dismissed the idea that the deal was just a diversion, according to The Hill, saying, "I know [the administration needs] some type of other news," but that a deal meant to distract "would never be the case."

There's little question that Obama would rather talk about something besides Obamacare, in light of his still-plunging poll numbers. Obama's approval dive is almost rote, by now, a refrain as common as the one that plagued the Republican Party last month in the wake of the shutdown. CNN released new data from its poll conducted last week on Monday morning, showing that the public finds him less trustworthy and capable than ever before.

… 53% of Americans now believe that Obama is not honest and trustworthy, the first time that a clear majority in CNN polling has felt that way.

… 40% say the President can manage the government effectively. That 40% figure is down 12 percentage points from June and is the worst score Obama received among the nine personal characteristics tested in the new poll.

The shift is almost certainly due to the president's declining popularity among independents, who now disapprove of his job performance by a two-to-one margin. In a fundraising event in Seattle last night, Obama declared that he is "not a particularly ideological person," according to pool reports. Independent voters apparently disagree. (There is some good news in the poll: "seven in 10 say he is likable — his best attribute of the nine items tested in this poll." And if there's one thing that Obama considers important in a president, it's that he or she be likeable enough.)

CNN's polling director puts the blame precisely where the Republicans do: Obamacare. If Iran was meant to cast the president in a better light, though, it's not clear that the distraction has been effective over the short term. The Huffington Post walked through the mixed reaction from both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, a diversity of opposition that the conservative New York Post celebrated on its front page.

To be clear: Obama is actively trying to change the topic in Washington away from his health care law. The Washington Post reports that the White House is sending a poll to congressional Democrats that voters care more about the economy than Obamacare/Syria/NSA — and that they support the Democrats' plan to deal with the economy.

Assuming they can get anyone to listen. Politico spoke with anonymous Democratic pollsters who think that the idea Obamacare will fade as an issue before 2014 may be naive or overly optimistic. Particularly given how fervently Republicans are pushing an issue that is almost solely still to their political advantage. Last week, House Republicans leaked its playbook for continuing the attack on Obamacare, a 17-page document with recommended tweets and multi-year timelines and sample editorials and everything else. As long as the polling on Obamacare keeps damaging Democrats, it's obvious that the loyal opposition will ensure people pay attention to it. And as long as anything else comes up in the political conversation, Republicans are likely to accuse the White House of trying to distract voters with it — which is their own way of re-centering the conversation on the only thing they want to talk about.

"Isn't it true that WH are masters of distraction?" Cornyn tweeted, apparently in reaction to the negative response to his initial question. The ensuing 24 hours have answered his question: Apparently not.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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