The cycle goes something like this – those who get close to the president understand and discern precisely the chaos that Bolton describes. To stop the worst mistakes (Bolton claims that Trump once threatened to quit NATO, our nation’s most important military alliance), one must be “in the room where it happens,” to quote Bolton, quoting the musical Hamilton. But to stay in the room, one must engage in the flattery and the loud public defenses Trump requires.
This flattery and these defenses – amplified through Fox News, talk radio, and other conservative outlets – are heard and believed by the president’s supporters. After all, the defenses are coming from the people who are in the room, the statements are on the record (as opposed to the anonymous leaks the media often relies upon), and they’re unequivocal.
Republican officials thus build their own Trumpist prison. To retain influence, they must flatter. When they flatter, they sustain Trump’s base. The more the flattery, the tighter Trump’s hold on the GOP. The tighter Trump’s hold on the GOP, the higher the cost if and when they do choose to speak out. Better to just ride this thing out then, they believe. Have you seen how the base turned even on Gen. James Mattis? Have you seen the newfound hatred for John Bolton?