Wednesday, September 11, 2019


A lot of people seem to believe that John Bolton will blow the lid off the Trump administration now that he's been fired. Here was Lawrence O'Donnell last night:
Lawrence O’Donnell said newly fired national security adviser John Bolton just might become “one of the richest authors in history” if he writes a tell-all book about working inside the White House of President Donald Trump....

“John Bolton is in a position to write and deliver the most explosive Trump book ever, which means it would be one of the bestselling books in publishing history,” O’Donnell said....

O'Donnell said:
“Tonight, in their New York offices, major book publishers are probably staying late, trying to calculate how many millions of dollars they can offer John Bolton now if he can deliver an inside-the-Trump-White-House book that will hit bookstores in the final months of the presidential campaign when such a book would have maximum sales potential.”
In The Atlantic, David Frum is urging Bolton (and other former Trump national security aides) to talk:
Men such as Rex Tillerson, Jim Mattis, H. R. McMaster, and now John Bolton have all had important pre-Trump careers—and all have post-Trump reputations to consider. Yet even after the unhappy culmination of their work for Trump, they have all continued to protect him. They know he is unfit for the job—morally, intellectually, psychologically. But they keep silent....

Their duty is to speak.

... as national-security officials, all have been party to decisions that exposed fellow Americans to the risk of their lives. Much less is asked of any of them now. They are asked only to risk their quiet retirements—their after-careers of speaking engagements and seats on boards of directors. Is that so dear?

Speak! Speak! Tell the truth, all of it—not just adjectives and conclusions, but the actual details of the self-dealing by Trump, of the security risks he presents, of his inattention and ignorance. Speak so that people feel it, so that people understand it, so that people can do something about it while there is time. “History isn’t kind to the man who holds Mussolini’s jacket,” Ted Cruz reportedly told friends in 2016. Cruz was right.
Frum's Atlantic colleague Graeme Wood suspects that Bolton will speak out:
Most Trump appointees have left quietly, and have begun murmuring their discontent only after a decorous interval. Bolton’s dismissal has come after an unusually long prelude of disrespect.... Bolton might not observe the same period of silence. In talking to his former associates, I heard many marvel at his energy. He wakes up before dawn to plot against his adversaries. He accepts every invitation to write op-eds and go on television to ridicule those who disagree with him. Trump has, in firing Bolton, made an enemy of a man incapable of rest and letting grudges go. Tomorrow morning he will wake up and start plotting, as he usually does. It’s 3 a.m. Do you know who your ex–national security adviser’s enemies are?
But if Bolton decides to talk, will it matter? What will happen if Bolton writes a tell-all book and it's timed for the election, as O'Donnell suggests?

On his show last night, O'Donnell compared the potential impact of a Bolton book to that of Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury and Bob Woodward's Fear. How did those books affect the public's opinion of Donald Trump?

Fire and Fury was published on January 5, 2018. On that day, according to the Real Clear Politics average, 40.4% of Americans approved of the president and 55.9% disapproved. Once the book had been out a month, Trump's numbers were 41.5% approval, 54.5% disapproval -- the approval number was still low, but it was a point better than it had been at the time of the book's publication, and the disapproval rating was a point less. Fire and Fury appears to have had no negative impact on public perception of Trump.

Fear was published exactly a year ago, on September 11, 2018. How did that book affect public opinion? On the day of the book's publication, Trump's RCP numbers were 41.0% approval, 53.5% disapproval. A month later? They were 43.2% approval, 53.0% disapproval. There was a two-point gain in approval.

Bolton can speak out, but it won't matter. Trump's approval rating changes slightly depending on immediate circumstances. It drops when he's been particularly distasteful, as he has been for the past couple of months. It dropped when there was a long government shutdown. It rose after the 2017 GOP tax cut was passed.

But books don't have much impact. For the most part, critical books about Trump are read by people who already dislike him. They don't move the needle.

It would be nice to learn what Bolton has to tell us, even if Bolton is a mad neoconservative warmonger. But the public's perception of Trump won't change as a result.

No comments: