How strained must this relationship have been for Trump to take the unusual step of canning this guy? You know how he likes to handle “problem” advisors — marginalizing them, making his disapproval of them known, but keeping them in their positions for many months if need be. Ask Jeff Sessions or John Kelly or Jerome Powell, they’ll you all about it.
Not Bolton. He’s done, as of last night. What the hell happened?
If a super-hawk natsec advisor and an isolationist autocrat-hugging president can’t make it work in this topsy turvy world, what hope do the rest of us have?
….I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning. I thank John very much for his service. I will be naming a new National Security Advisor next week.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 10, 2019
Someone forgot to tell the White House comms team:
Bolton is chiming in too:
I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, "Let's talk about it tomorrow."
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) September 10, 2019
Did they talk about it today? Or was the “discussion” limited to Trump blindsiding him with this morning’s tweets?
Not a good sign for POTUS if Bolton is already airing details of his private conversations with Trump.
Anyway, his exit was months in the making. Back in May, with tensions rising between the U.S. and Iran, Trump’s Fox buddy Tucker Carlson began taking hard shots at him on the air for his hawkishness. It got worse in June when Trump canceled a bombing strike on Iran at the last minute against the advice of Bolton, among others; Carlson took to telling Fox viewers that Bolton was a “bureaucratic tapeworm” and Trump reportedly lamented to a confidant about his own natsec advisors, “These people want to push us into a war, and it’s so disgusting.” A few weeks later, Bolton was conspicuously absent from Trump’s big photo op with Kim Jong Un at the DMZ, having been tasked with a visit to Mongolia at the time instead. (Ironically, Carlson did accompany Trump, albeit as part of Fox’s team.)
Things seemed to deteriorate from there. The most hardcore Republican Bolton critic in Congress, Rand Paul, was deputized by Trump in July to try to broker negotiations with Iran. (Paul is already celebrating Bolton’s termination on Twitter today.) More recently reports being bubbling up that Bolton had been sidelined from the peace process in Afghanistan and was being excluded from meetings. Rumors began circulating that his relationship with Mike Pompeo, a Trump favorite, had collapsed, with natsec deputies unsure who was actually steering the diplomatic ship between the more negotiation-minded Pompeo and the more hardline Bolton.
The final straw may have been Bolton reportedly (and correctly) urging Trump to resist his instincts to invite the Taliban to Camp David for peace talks. If anything finished him off in Trump’s eyes, it may have been the public perception over the last 48 hours that his NSA was right about that and showed “toughness” and judgment that Trump lacked. In fact, Trump may have suspected Bolton or his team of leaking the fact that Bolton opposed Trump’s idea and chose to axe him for that reason. The president hates when his aides get the glory that he thinks he deserves, as Steve Bannon might tell you.
I never understood why Trump hired him to begin with. Right, he’s “good on TV” — the cardinal virtue in Trump’s eyes — and his reputation for hawkishness was of some use to Trump in negotiating with foreign powers, letting him play good cop to Bolton’s bad cop. But they were destined to clash. Trump is clearly more dovish on foreign policy than Washington’s hawkish Republican establishment and Bolton, if anything, is more hawkish. The marriage was doomed from the start.
Stand by for updates. And prepare for withdrawal from a variety of theaters overseas, now that Trump has one less hawk around him pressuring him the other way. Maybe we’ll even get that Camp David cocktail party with the Taliban after all.
Update: You can’t fire me, says Bolton. I quit!
"John Bolton just texted me," @kilmeade says live on Fox News, where Bolton was a former contributor. "He said, 'Let's be clear, I resigned.'"
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) September 10, 2019
Why did he resign last night? Did Trump make some as-yet-unknown dovish foreign policy decision that Bolton couldn’t live with, a la Mattis resigning after being given the order to withdraw from Syria? Bolton has a reputation as a crafty “inside game” operator against his enemies. If embarrassing natsec revelations start appearing in the media, don’t be surprised.
Update: My best guess at Bolton’s replacement is Keith Kellogg, who served as acting NSA for a week after Mike Flynn was fired in 2017, signed on to become Mike Pence’s NSA a year later, and has been publishing Trumpish op-eds over the past year like “Time to leave Syria.” Trump even cited him as a possible permanent replacement for Flynn two years ago before opting for H.R. McMaster.
Maybe he’ll surprise us and choose Tulsi Gabbard instead. The Camp David champagne-glass-clinking with Assad and his death squad will be a momentous diplomatic triumph.
Update: The left’s Strange New Respect for John Bolton begins in the person of Dem Sen. Chris Murphy.
Maybe I'm a simpleton but it seems like if you criticized Bolton's hiring you probably shouldn't also criticize his firing. pic.twitter.com/iRIGNDc28A
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) September 10, 2019
Update: Eventually the disagreements couldn’t be papered over.
Have similar reporting – West Wing officials said Bolton didn’t want to defend Trump on Russia being readmitted to G7. People close to Bolton insisted it was because he didn’t want to be the front person talking about tariffs, per multiple sources, which made little sense. https://t.co/qcop2GVK2F
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) September 10, 2019
And yes, per Haberman, Bolton may have taken the blame for leaks about the meeting with the Taliban at Camp David, rightly or wrongly:
Lots of people saying the leaks related to the Camp David meeting, including about Pence’s stance, infuriated POTUS.
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) September 10, 2019
Update: It’s going to get ugly. But maybe not for awhile.
Ambassador Bolton to me just now: “I will have my say in due course. But I have given you the facts on the resignation. My sole concern is US national security.”
— Robert Costa (@costareports) September 10, 2019