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Ten Takeaways from Bolton’s Book

John Bolton’s ‘The Room Where It Happened’ isn’t even out yet and the earthquakes have already begun for Republicans.
June 18, 2020
Ten Takeaways from Bolton’s Book
Say my name. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Feel free to dunk on John Bolton’s failure to testify during the impeachment hearings and call bullshit on his self-serving complaints that the House failed to act on information he refused to give them. His prose is reportedly execrable and, yes, Bolton has the personality of a perpetually annoyed ferret.

So you don’t have to either (a) like the man, or (b) think he is a patriotic hero, or (c) embrace his pugilistic foreign policy.

But you do have to pay attention. Because the man has just dropped a truth bomb on the president and although we are numbed to all of this by now, it is very much a BFD.

Herewith ten random takeaways in some order of importance:

1. Concentration Camps, for God’s sake. According to Bolton’s account:

At the opening dinner of the Osaka G-20 meeting in June 2019, with only interpreters present, Xi had explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang. According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do. The National Security Council’s top Asia staffer, Matthew Pottinger, told me that Trump said something very similar during his November 2017 trip to China. [emphasis added]

We’ve seen signs of Trump’s fascination with the performative cruelty of strongmen he admired before. But, even by Trump’s standards of kids-in-cages inhumanity, this is extraordinary.

But it’s only part of his fawning appeasement of the ChiComs . . .

2. Trump really is China’s bitch. Bolton’s book lays waste to Trump’s claim that he was the tough guy in his face-off with the Chinese. It’s also safe to say that the strategy behind the multi-million-dollar campaign to portray Joe Biden as weak on China is in tatters.

And, writes Bolton, Trump’s policy was never about putting America First.

Trump’s conversations with Xi reflected not only the incoherence in his trade policy but also the confluence in Trump’s mind of his own political interests and U.S. national interests. Trump commingled the personal and the national not just on trade questions but across the whole field of national security. I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my White House tenure that wasn’t driven by re-election calculations.

Here’s how this will play (BTW, this is pure fire):

3. Trump asked Xi to help him get re-elected. Asking a foreign leader to help him politically? Sound familiar?

Trump then, stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming U.S. presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability and pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win. He stressed the importance of farmers and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome. I would print Trump’s exact words, but the government’s prepublication review process has decided otherwise.

Pattern and practice, anyone?

4. Trump really is Putin’s poodle. From Bolton’s upcoming ABC interview:

RADDATZ: How would you describe Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin?

BOLTON: I think Putin thinks he can play him like a fiddle. I think Putin is smart, tough. I think he sees that he’s not faced with a serious adversary here. I don’t think he’s worried about Donald Trump.

5. There was more obstruction. Via the Atlantic:

Though Ukraine was the case that got Trump impeached, Bolton argues that Trump committed plenty of other impeachable offenses. He says Trump repeatedly tried to halt criminal investigations that were troublesome to autocrats in China and Turkey. “The pattern looked like obstruction of justice as a way of life,” writes Bolton, who reported the cases to Attorney General William Barr—apparently naively viewing Barr as a defender of the law rather than a zealous henchman of the president. [emphasis added]

Bolton is sharply critical of House Democrats for missing this. “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.”

Perhaps, but Bolton himself could have helped, right?

6. Trump really is unfit. In that ABC interview, Bolton says that Trump is “unfit for office” and lacks the “competence to carry out the job.”

There really isn’t any guiding principle that I was able to discern other than what’s good for Donald Trump’s reelection. I think he was so focused on the reelection that longer-term considerations fell by the wayside.

7. This is unprecedented. The Nixon Watergate analogy notwithstanding, has any other president faced this accumulation of public commentary from members of his own administration?

These are folks who have watched him up close, who have seen how his mind works and how he handles the job. We’re not talking here about anonymous leakers or Omarosa or other hangers-on. We have now heard from his former secretary of defense, his former chief of staff, and his national security advisor.

And there will be more.

The dam is breaking.

8. In the Trumpified Right, there is no past. There is only loyalty. Watch how Bolton is being excommunicated by his former friends. And, of course, he must be smeared and discredited.

Make sure you read Jim Swift’s deconstruction of all the ways that Trump’s rationalizers are twisting themselves into pretzels over this.

Three points to keep in mind: (1) Trump hired Bolton. (2) The book has gone through a rigorous vetting process. (3) The DOJ attempt to suppress the book argues that it contains “classified” information. The Justice Department is not arguing that it is untrue.

9. The GOP vote against witnesses is not aging well. Bolton, after playing coy with the House, offered to testify at Trump’s Senate trial if he was subpoenaed. At times it felt like he was almost begging to be compelled to tell senators what we knew. It would have taken just four Republican senators to make that happen; but only two voted to listen.

Which means that 51 GOP senators are still on record for blocking Bolton’s theoretically crucial testimony.

Given the speed of the news cycle they had probably imagined that this would all be forgotten by voters.

Suddenly, it is a very real issue again.

10. Where’s the concern about cancel culture, folks?

Charlie Sykes

Charlie Sykes is a founder and editor-at-large of The Bulwark and the author of How the Right Lost Its Mind. He is also the host of The Bulwark Podcast and an MSNBC contributor.