Wednesday, June 17, 2020


I know what I'm supposed to think about John Bolton's book:

The argument, I guess, is that these revelations could have turned the tide:
Mr. Bolton describes several episodes where the president expressed willingness to halt criminal investigations “to, in effect, give personal favors to dictators he liked,” citing cases involving major firms in China and Turkey. “The pattern looked like obstruction of justice as a way of life, which we couldn’t accept,” Mr. Bolton writes, adding that he reported his concerns to Attorney General William P. Barr.

Mr. Bolton also adds a striking new allegation by saying that Mr. Trump overtly linked trade negotiations to his own political fortunes by asking President Xi Jinping of China to buy a lot of American agricultural products to help him win farm states in this year’s election. Mr. Trump, he writes, was “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.”

... Mr. Bolton ... had nothing but scorn for the House Democrats who impeached Mr. Trump, saying they committed “impeachment malpractice” by limiting their inquiry to the Ukraine matter and moving too quickly for their own political reasons. Instead, he said they should have also looked at how Mr. Trump was willing to intervene in investigations into companies like Turkey’s Halkbank to curry favor with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey or China’s ZTE to favor Mr. Xi.
But in the impeachment trial we actually had, Democrats proved beyond any doubt that Trump used American foreign policy to advance his own electoral interests in the case of Ukraine -- and all but one Republican in the Senate voted to acquit. If Bolton had testified, maybe Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski would have wrung their hands a bit more, but I'm persuaded that the outcome of the trial would have been exactly the same. The fix was in.

And while polls showed that a plurality of Americans consistently supported impeaching Trump, please note that his poll numbers went up over the course of the impeachment and trial. On October 27, 2019, four days before the House adopted a resolution beginning the public impeachment process, Trump hit a polling trough -- according to the Real Clear Politics average, he registered 41.6% approval and 55% disapproval -- but after that his numbers steadily rose, so that by February 27, 2020, three weeks and a day after his Senate acquittal, he was at 46.1% approval and 50.7% disapproval, with overwhelming support from his party's base.

Nothing Bolton might have said would have changed that. Quite a few Republicans in both the House and Senate were at risk of being defeated in primaries if they turned against a president widely revered by their voters, and almost universally seen as the victim of a witch hunt conducted by people who, these voters believed, should have been on trial themselves. The scales weren't going to fall from Republicans' eyes just because Bolton was a right-wing hero in the distant past.

I don't believe that Bolton's revelations would even have had much impact on his original publication schedule. In mid-March, when he first planned to publish the book, it would have had a brief moment of notoriety and disappeared in a wave of coronavrus news -- and it would have been followed by the couple of weeks when Trump seemed to be taking the pandemic seriously, which was the time when his numbers were best (47.3% approval, 49.3% disapproval on March 27, according to RCP).

Right now might be an ideal time for the book, a moment when some voters who were once favorably disposed toward Trump have finally begun to see him as a failure. Trump's scapegoating of China for the coronavirus and attempts to brand Joe Biden as a pushover for the Chinese are the perfect setup for some of Bolton's revelations.

This is a fine way for John Bolton to go public. The only way his timing might have been better is if he'd published the book closer to Election Day.

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