One of Republicans’ most frequent rationalizations for supporting President Donald Trump, a blatantly unfit commander in chief, was that “the best people” he picked would keep everything on the level. Men such as Jim Mattis, John Kelly, Daniel Coats and H.R. McMaster would keep things normal.
Well then, John Bolton.
How to explain both vouching for Trump by relying on senior advisers and still supporting him when he summarily dismisses them for weird ideas like preserving NATO, keeping the Taliban out of Camp David, demanding we address Kim Jong Un’s resumption of missile tests (despite the love letters), refusing to abandon the Kurds abruptly in Syria and objecting to a replay of the Kim debacle in the form of Trump talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani?
You see, all of those positions are deeply (if quietly) held by the uber-hawks, who for years have been calling Democrats fools and weaklings when it comes to national security. Now they face a dilemma: Trump’s positions, the ones about which he clashed with his advisers, are insane from the vantage point of those same Republican hawks.
Someone should ask Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., or Ted Cruz, R-Texas, whether Trump’s instinct to bring the Taliban up to Camp David was brilliant or idiotic. Maybe Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., can explain — especially to South Carolinians hurt by Trump’s trade war — why he doesn’t favor grabbing back the power to levy tariffs.
A former national security officials tells me, “John Bolton was unpopular in many foreign policy circles, but he had consistent principles and stood up for them, including against the president. That’s a lot more than you can say for just about everyone else in the president’s circle.” And that’s the problem with those left in the administration as well as Republicans on the Hill.
I am 100 percent certain these Senate Republican believe Trump’s ideas are loony and dangerous, but they will refuse to speak out against arguably the stupidest idea (inviting the Taliban over) to pop into Trump’s head (and there is stiff competition). Cruz, in a series of mind-numbing tweets, pretended this was all the work of the Deep State. His assumption that voters are dumb enough to buy this is disturbing, but not as disturbing as his need to push out gibberish to maintain the facade of Trump’s normalcy.
The Fox News hosts and the rest of the right-wing media will either ignore or praise Trump — while trying to avoid endorsing the idea that a Camp David invite was just the thing to finish up a “peace deal” (which consisted of pulling out all troops in exchange for a promise the Taliban would continue terrorist attacks, but just a few here and there).
There is literally no limit to what Trump will now give away to China or Iran or North Korea to deliver a photo op for his increasingly dismal re-election campaign. Kori Schake of the International Institute for Strategic Studies observes that “because his hardline views were so well known, Bolton served an incredibly important purpose for President Trump, which was as shield against claims the administration was too yielding to our adversaries.” She adds, “It will be much harder for the president to defend his capitulations to Russia, North Korea, and Iran without Bolton in the administration.”
And, of course, it will not simply be the perception of critics; we already know Trump is all too willing to give up leverage for deals the contents of which he is ignorant and uninterested.
It remains a mystery why McMaster, Bolton, Coats, Mattis, Kelly and Rex Tillerson don’t come before Congress to explain to the American people that the president is unfit. If they think this will disturb allies, they are mistaken. Our allies already know that. If they think this hobbles Trump, one has to question at this point whether hobbling Trump is the patriotic thing to do.
Remaining silent enables his renomination and deprives voters of critical information. And it might just allow him another four years. When exactly do they tell us what they know — before or after the next Taliban invitation?
Jennifer Rubin writes for the Washington Post.