I guess I should say something.
For five years my office at AEI was right next to John Bolton. Lately I’ve been having fun with this photo suggesting I can do “hearsay” with the best of Adam Schiff’s witnesses (that is, “making stuff up”).
I can’t say I got to know Bolton very well, but as early risers we were often the first people in the office before well before 7 am on many days, so I’d sometimes stop to chat over coffee and we’d joke about things. And he was helpful to me several times when I needed some inside information on how the UN’s climate change circus worked, and also on my Reagan books. He was on the right side of a lot of important things going all the way back to the Buckley v. Valeo case in 1976. I often joked on those mornings when we arrived early that I wanted to know his Fox News schedule that day so I wouldn’t get run over as he bolted (heh) out of the office for the elevator several times a day to race down to the Fox bureau on First Street for an appearance. You’d get hurt if you were in his path!
I have a high opinion of Bolton. I may revise this later, but for the moment, I’ll stand with my prior judgment. We should take the media reports just now with a large lump of salt. It is entirely possible that Bolton, if he testifies in the Senate, will say that Trump legitimately believed that Ukraine was a center of election interference in 2016, and that Biden was involved in it, which would turn the tables on the Democrats, as it would make the conditions of the aid wholly legitimate. Scott Adams thinks this might be the case. (I’m hoping to do a separate post on how the Lin Manuel Miranda musical about the Trump impeachment might go, since the title of Bolton’s book borrows from one of the hit songs from Hamilton—”The Room Where It Happened.” Something like, “The Senate Floor Where It Didn’t Happen.”)
It is also true that Bolton is a very ambitious person. Political ambition is an ambiguous thing, so it is not necessarily a knock to say someone is “ambitious.” I discount heavily (though not entirely) that the leak of his forthcoming book is meant to juice sales. I respect and admire political ambition, though it is hard to draw the line between worthy ambition and selfish ambition. That line is in fact impossible to draw: see, e.g, Charles de Gaulle. I do not just now incline to believe that Bolton or his publisher is necessarily behind the leak to the NY Times. There are lots of possibilities here. The fact that the Times is the venue for the leak ought to make everyone suspicious. I’m pretty sure Bolton hates the Times as much as every other decent person. Though that doesn’t preclude using them for your own purposes at the right moment.
One old moment does come back to mind. I used to clash frequently with Arthur Brooks after he became president of AEI. In fact, it was the shouting match I had with Arthur after he dismissed Roger Scruton from AEI in 2012 (without asking anyone’s opinion about his decision—how totally clueless do you have to be to fire ROGER SCRUTON!!!) that precipitated my unhappy departure from AEI that year. But it’s one of my earlier disputes with Arthur from the spring of 2011 that came back to mind today, when I apologized for being such a pain in the ass to Arthur amidst the stresses and strains of his job, and Arthur generously waved it off: “Oh heck, your complaints are nothing compared to what I get from John Bolton!” I didn’t ask for details at the time, but it does make me wonder. I’m withholding final judgment for the time being. I do note, however, that since leaving the White House Bolton hasn’t returned to AEI.
Meanwhile, I’m having a much harder time retaining any residual respect for Mitt Romney. Isn’t it more than a little bit conveeeenient that the Bolton book leak should occur exactly when it does the most damage to Trump in the Senate impeachment proceedings? This is not an accident, and Romney (and Collins, Murkowski, and Alexander) ought to understand this. It is a rerun of the Kavanaugh ambush. And the Clarence Thomas ambush in 1991. The Democrats’ playbook is more stale than a playbook from George Halas in 1965. If Romney really thought Bolton was a relevant witness, the time to say this was three or four weeks ago at least. Now he reveals himself to be the monkey to the NY Times organ grinder.
This is a perfect moment for a character sketch in politics. Mitt Romney is a decent and good man, just like his equally decent but clueless father, whose politically weak character Nixon judged exactly right (that is, contemptuously). I’d have Mitt babysit my kids, and structure a major business investment for me. Trump is a bit of a rogue; not sure I’d want him babysitting my kids, and I wouldn’t do business with him. But Trump gets it when it comes to politics. He knows who the bad guys are. Romney doesn’t. Romney is the kind of person who looks to make nice with the cannibals after they have him trussed up in the pot and have the wood fire lit underneath. Of course Trump’s behavior in the Ukraine matter is less than perfect (though you really do have to admire Trump’s instinctually correct moxie in calling it a “perfect” phone call), but Romney and other weak-minded GOP senators can’t recognize what is really going on.
Let me restate this last paragraph: Romney’s highest and best use is babysitting kids. Trump’s best use is smashmouth rugby with Democrats. This is not a hard call.