Republicans say he’s a lying traitor, Democrats say he put paycheck before patriotism in spilling the beans on working for Trump. John Bolton has put a rocket under Washington and a knife in the back of the president with his tell-all book. He’s also managed to achieve something incredibly rare in this coarsely divided capital …
Republicans say he’s a lying traitor, Democrats say he put paycheck before patriotism in spilling the beans on working for Trump.
John Bolton has put a rocket under Washington and a knife in the back of the president with his tell-all book.
He’s also managed to achieve something incredibly rare in this coarsely divided capital – unity, sparking condemnation from the left and right for daring to lift the lid on his time in the White House.
Republicans say he’s a lying traitor, Democrats say he put paycheck before patriotism in spilling the beans on his experience as national security adviser to Donald Trump.
But it shouldn’t come as any great surprise. He has always been about strategy and with his opinion in demand and in the spotlight, he clearly decided that nothing is more important than having the last word.
He appears to have calculated that a book, not a committee hearing room, was the best way to share his side of the story. You may deem an act of cowardice.
He told me he considers his 577-page account an important hospital document.
After serving three presidents, it also risks becoming his political obituary. But he has a boomerang-like quality and irons in every ideological fire you can imagine – he will surely continue to agitate from the sides.
It’s almost impossible to see him changing his fundamental arguments when it comes to North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq.
He now claims Donald Trump is dangerous. But at the start of his tenure, he appears to have believed he could influence and steer the president.
The fact he wooed Mr Trump with his Fox News slots, arguably gave him reason to believe that. After all, both men enjoy the idea of dismantling the costly, inefficient engines of global diplomacy, making others pay their share and talking tough with America’s adversaries.
But there are key differences that perhaps showed the writing was on the wall from the beginning. Mr Trump likes to cast himself as a deal-maker who thrives on the one-to-one, securing agreements even if that means compromising on detail.
Mr Bolton prides himself on holding the line. His views have never wavered, however unpopular. He’s a hawk.
The president was perhaps never going to be hawkish enough for him – a mercurial man of the moment, not anchored on a firm ideological outlook. They ultimately agreed until they didn’t. And once again, that revolving door at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue turned.
What’s perhaps more surprising is how long he was able to stay in the fray. Mr Trump clearly sought counsel from him and admired his experience.
Mr Bolton’s subsequent description of his former boss as an erratic, compulsive character, with a penchant for strongmen is not new analysis – but it is the most damning “inside” demolition job of a sitting president America has ever seen.
The voters will be the judge of who is the villain of the story. The question is will they care and will it make a difference?
There are very few Republicans publicly willing to criticise the president, even if privately we’re told some share Mr Bolton’s concerns on foreign policy.
In the end, just as it was in 2016, I believe Donald Trump’s political fortunes will be decided by whether voters feel he’s in or out-of-step with their thinking and feelings.
Coronavirus, the economy and racial division will be huge tests for his leadership and will shape his future. In these times, it’s hard to believe a book from inside the Beltway will.
There is one thing the estranged political couple do still share – a survival instinct and an ability to exceed expectations.
It’s perhaps unwise to bet on what happens next with either of them.