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OPINION

Has Bolton redefined the 2020 campaign?

By MARTIN SCHRAM | Tribune News Service | Published: June 19, 2020

You are a proud member of the U.S. Senate’s Republican majority, politically loyal and patriotically committed to the values that have always made America great.

But your fellow conservative hardliner, John Bolton, has just put you and your Grand Old Party colleagues in a helluva predicament. And as you take in the political and national mess that has just erupted everywhere you look, I’m sure you are privately telling each other there’s probably just no face-saving way out of it.

It’s just two months until your Republican National Convention is scheduled to renominate President Donald Trump for reelection. And Bolton, who lasted 17 months as this president’s third national security adviser, has just told the world about all sorts of things he says he witnessed Trump do. And as you painfully know, Bolton’s revelations are things that are despicable, unacceptable and, even if not illegal, disclosures that would be presidentially disqualifying in any normal presidential campaign year. Which this is not.

Bolton’s book is filled with the things he carefully kept to himself throughout the whole 2019-2020 presidential impeachment conflagration — much to the relief of you and all your colleagues. Now that Bolton has delivered his book manuscript and been paid $2 million for it, he wants us all to understand he is eager to patriotically tell us all what we need to know. His book is scheduled to be published Tuesday, but while Team Trump is making a lame legal attempt to halt its publication, that’s just an exercise in irrelevancy. Because the secrets are out. Some journalists already have book copies and Bolton excerpted his memoir in The Wall Street Journal.

Senator, I’m sure you and your GOP colleagues hated every word you read. Because of course there’s no way you can respond when all the obvious questions you’ll be asked for the rest of the campaign year will be about Bolton’s reports that run the gamut from Trump’s ineptness to his incompetence. Like the time Trump asked whether Finland is a part of Russia. Or when British Prime Minister Theresa May mentioned the United Kingdom’s role as a “nuclear power” and Trump interrupted to ask: “Oh, are you a nuclear power?” (Not joking, Bolton says.)

Bolton chronicled the ease with which world leaders — especially despots like Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and China’s President Xi Jinping — seem able to manipulate Trump. They shovel personal praise at him and get their way. In 2019, Bolton says Trump was “pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win.” Trump wanted “increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome.” Xi agreed. “You’re the greatest Chinese leader in 300 years!” exulted Trump, making concessions Xi wanted.

Bolton also wrote that Trump gave his approval for Xi’s plan to build concentration camps for the Muslim Uighur citizens who live in northwest China’s Xinjiang province. Trump’s White House has issued denials and counterattacks.

“The Trump presidency is not grounded in philosophy, grand strategy or policy,” Bolton wrote. “It is grounded in Trump.”

And as you know best, having learned it from the conscience of the conservatives, Barry Goldwater: “In your heart, you know he’s right.”

But here’s one tidbit of cheer for you: Bolton’s book excerpt included this jab at House Democrats: “Had Democratic impeachment advocates not been so obsessed with their Ukraine blitzkrieg in 2019, had they taken the time to inquire more systematically about Trump’s behavior across his entire foreign policy, the impeachment outcome might well have been different.”

That’s Bolton’s gift to you, senator. He’s redefined the old joke’s definition of “chutzpah” — the one about the youth who murdered his parents, then asked the court for mercy because he is an orphan. It was Bolton who last year refused to testify or even talk with House Democratic impeachment investigators. Now he is blaming them for failing to find out the things he hid from them, and only impeaching Trump on those narrow Ukraine-only grounds.

But of course Bolton wasn’t about to then talk informally to you, show you, his Senate Republican pals, for free — just because it was the patriotic thing to do. So he kept silent and you held your collective breath and voted not guilty.

So now the Two Million Dollar Man has gone public. All in the name of patriotism. Now it’s out there. And he’s put you Republicans in the painful position of having to nominate a president who has just been revealed, by a fellow Republican, to be certifiably inept.

And your Grand Old Party pals may be headed into an uncomfortable campaign against an opponent whose best theme may be his simplest: “Biden — at least he’s ept.”

Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive.

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