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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

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My Run-In With John Bolton: The Man Who Torpedoed His Own Reputation

Return with me now to days of yesteryear. In this case, the summer of 1984.

President Ronald Reagan was running for re-election, and the Republican National Convention was set to convene in Dallas, Texas on August 20th. In the day, I was a young (OK, I’m still young, but I was younger!)  Reagan campaign staffer. Specifically, I was the chief of staff to Reagan co-chair Drew Lewis, Reagan’s first Secretary of Transportation (famous in the day for getting striking air traffic controllers fired.) Drew had gone back into the private sector as the CEO of what became the predecessor company to today’s Time-Warner. His task in the campaign that summer? Represent the President in the writing of the 1984 GOP Platform – a platform that had to represent the policies of the Reagan administration.

We had come late to the task. In fact, the White House Counselor Ed Meese was tasked with this. But Meese had been nominated to be Attorney General, immediately removing himself from this political task. Alas, the platform task sat there in the White House and fell through the cracks, allowing it to be taken up totally by the congressional and other staffers at the Republican National Committee who were already drafting the platform on the authority of the platform chairman, then Mississippi Congressman Trent Lott.

Now on board as representing the President in the process, I was instructed by my boss to do the obvious: get a copy of the platform as then drafted. Easy, right?

No.

I went about doing so – and learned that the person I needed to get it from was the platform committee’s chief of staff. His name: John Bolton. I called, brought him up to date, and asked for a copy so we could plug in the White House – that would mean the President and senior staff – so they would know what was in it.

And John said…no.

I confess I was startled. To be clear, I repeated what I thought was obvious. This is the platform that the President will run on for re-election. It has to reflect the President’s views. Yes, it represents the larger Republican Party, but this was an incumbent administration with actual government policy in place that had to be reflected. Answer? No again.

The long and short is that we had to have a small four-person lunch in the US House dining room hosted by Congressman Lott, with Drew Lewis, myself, and John Bolton to clear the air. All was well after that in terms of cooperation.

Move ahead to the Trump era and my first thought was that John Bolton would do well as the national security adviser dealing with the Kim Jung Un’s of the world.

Bolton seems not to understand is that when all the media hoo-ha has gone away, and he dines out on his book profits, he has effectively torpedoed his own historical reputation.

But the real problem here is that, alas, what had been an uncooperative, power-move in 1984 had, I have realized in recent days, evolved into the attitude that can be all too frequent in any White House. Which is to say, there are always members of a White House staff so taken with their own job and themselves that they forget there is only one person in the entire building who put his name on the ballot for the right to sit behind the big desk in the Oval Office. In this case, that person was Donald J. Trump – not John Bolton.

To the point, here is the news that former Trump White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has her own new book about to come out. And here is a brief reveal as reported by Fox News.  The headline:

Sarah Sanders slams Bolton as man ‘drunk on power,’ in her forthcoming book

The story opens by reporting this:

“Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders slams former National Security Adviser John Bolton as a man “drunk on power” in her forthcoming book expected to be released later this year.

Sanders, a Fox News contributor, shared a scathing passage pertaining to Bolton — who has made waves with his own memoir skewering President Trump — in a lengthy Twitter thread Monday morning.

“Full excerpt from my forthcoming book ‘Speaking for Myself,’ about John Bolton, a man drunk on power who ultimately betrayed America when he didn’t get his way,” Sanders tweeted.

The excerpt claimed Bolton on many foreign trips “had a separate agenda and often arrived and departed on a different plane because he didn’t want to travel on Air Force One with the rest of us.”

Sarah goes on, but the point to me is evident. The John Bolton who had  resisted the Reagan White House in 1984 had become some sort of self-viewed version of  the Incredible Hulk. Nominally he worked for President Trump. But in reality he was all about his own power and prestige, and when he was angered by X he would become the big green, rampaging monster.

This is an eye-rolling yet typical Washington story, albeit on steroids.  Leaving Bolton’s former colleagues who don’t behave in this fashion simultaneously seething at his self-aggrandizement and appalled at his methodical sell-out of a president who gave him the much sought-after position he wanted so desperately that he lobbied relentlessly for the job.

What John Bolton seems not to understand is that when all the media hoo-ha has gone away, and he dines out on his book profits, he has effectively torpedoed his own historical reputation.

For good.

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