It might seem like the only three options available to Trump’s congressional enablers are (1) to say Bolton is lying; (2) to deflect by saying that Bolton was violating the law regarding classified information (an argument that’s in tension with the idea that he was lying); or (3) to say that none of the Bolton revelations matter.
Unlike their media brethren, the Trump-enabling elected officials (except the tactically dumb) will probably not accuse Bolton of lying. As Vladeck says, their approach will be one of strategic silence, followed by “I didn’t read it.” (If only John Bolton starred in Hellboy, then you know Ted Cruz would have read it.)
And, because the Bolton story involves China, the GOP is in a very weird position, given the party’s historic views of that country’s Communist regime. The Senate just last month passed a bill called the “Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act” and President Trump signed it into law on Wednesday, the same day Bolton’s revelations dropped. It passed the Senate unanimously.
On the trade front, vulnerable senators have to be careful about the Bolton revelations because most incumbent Republicans facing voters this fall come from states with big farming industries. If, as Bolton alleges, Trump asked Xi to bail him out electorally by buying American products after his trade war failed, what do these senators tell voters who might feel like they were used as props? Republican voters have shown a high threshold for abuse by Trump and the GOP, but gambling with their livelihoods for political gain might cause some trouble.