The Free Beacon never uses the word “frontrunner” here, but if it’s true that Trumpworld’s big cheeses want Bolton then he’s the de facto frontrunner, right? Interestingly, Trump himself appears to have a frontrunner in mind: He told reporters on Air Force One yesterday that he’s already “leaning toward” one of the four candidates he’s planning to interview today. (The four are acting NSA Keith Kellogg, H.R. McMaster, Robert Caslen, and Bolton.)
As of Friday morning, it looked like Bolton wasn’t being considered at all, as he wasn’t among the four short-listers leaked to the media. By Friday afternoon, Ted Cruz had endorsed him and rumors were swirling that Bolton was now in the mix. By yesterday afternoon, when the Free Beacon report appeared, Bolton was allegedly the favorite among senior White House officials. Boy, that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast!
Among Bolton’s most vocal supporters are senior administration officials loyal to Flynn and who are upset at the general’s firing. Multiple sources described an effort by these Flynn loyalists to ensure that Bolton is selected as his replacement.
The selection of Bolton as the next national security adviser would empower Flynn’s allies still in the White House and send a message that his national security vision is represented within the Trump administration. Bolton is also favored by White House staffers who are opposed to the selection of any candidate who criticized President Trump during the 2016 campaign…
“The one thing that makes Bolton more qualified than anyone else for the Trump era is that he has a veteran genius-level understanding of the organizational structure of our nation’s diplomatic and intelligence apparatus,” said one veteran foreign policy insider who is in close contact with multiple senior Trump administration national security figures.
It’s strange to me that Flynn loyalists would strongly prefer Bolton. They’re both Iran hawks, but Bolton has always seemed like more of a Russia hawk than Flynn is. But maybe foreign policy isn’t at the heart of this. According to the Beacon, one key reason why Team Trump likes Bolton is that “Bolton has the ability to help root out Obama administration holdovers still working in the government, according to multiple sources.” That rings true. If you’re looking for a deputy willing to reform the intelligence bureaus and not afraid to step on lots and lots and lots of toes in doing so, Bolton seems like an obvious choice. He has so many enemies on the left (and right) in Washington already, what would he have to lose by becoming the purger-in-chief?
There may be more working in his favor than ruthless bravado, too:
contact says, Just was told Trump told KT McFarland to pick her new boss. She named Bolton. see where this goes
— Laura Rozen (@lrozen) February 18, 2017
McFarland is the former Fox News commentator turned deputy national security advisor who, it was thought, would step down after Flynn resigned but who ended up being invited by Trump to stay on. Her continued service was, reportedly, a key sticking point between Trump and Robert Harward, Trump’s first choice to replace Flynn. Harward wanted to install his own staff at the National Security Council, starting with replacing McFarland. Nope, said Trump, as McFarland is reportedly close to the Trump family. Since she and Bolton are both Fox News alums and doubtless know each other that way, it makes sense that she’d prefer him as her new boss and that Bolton would be comfortable with her staying on. Reince Priebus told an interviewer this morning that “the new director will have total and complete say over the makeup of the NSC and all of the components of the NSC,” but obviously that’s not quite true if McFarland’s status is non-negotiable. It may be that Bolton, who’s been out of government for more than 10 years and now finds himself on the verge of returning in an extremely powerful position, is willing to accept the job with conditions that someone like Harward wouldn’t. If that means limited authority over staffing decisions, then that’s what it means.
Or, of course, it could be that senior officials are whispering to the Free Beacon because they suspect that Bolton isn’t the frontrunner, and that Trump has his mind set on someone else instead — most likely Kellogg. Trump’s aides and admirers have been advising him through the media since he was a candidate last year. This may be another example of the same strategy — manufacture some grassroots buzz for Bolton by telling a conservative media outlet that there’s excitement for him inside the White House and hope that the enthusiastic reaction on the right makes an impression on Trump.
Two clips here for you to enjoy while Trump is busy conducting interviews today, one of Bolton ducking questions about this from Lou Dobbs and the other of Bolton nemesis Rand Paul reminding Trump that he didn’t get elected by preaching traditional Republican post-9/11 hyper-hawkishness.
— Lou Dobbs (@LouDobbs) February 18, 2017
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) February 19, 2017