Foreign Affairs

John Bolton’s upcoming account of Trump won’t be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize

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Remember John Bolton? The fearsome-looking former national security advisor in Trump’s cabinet who was abruptly sacked (like so many) a couple of months ago? 

Given the recent global protests and pandemic, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that his self-penned account of the Trump administration, a book reportedly so incendiary that the White House is still trying to censor large parts of it, is only a few weeks away from publication.

In an attempt to keep the hype train going, Bolton has only hinted at the book’s contents but broadly speaking it appears to be framed as an unflattering behind-the-scenes account of the president’s foreign policymaking, with a focus on the notorious Ukraine incident which led to his impeachment.

But the lack of recent marketing fanfare surrounding the book’s release seems to indicate it may not be the final nail in Trump’s coffin it was so confidently billed as initially. Bolton may not, as papers such as the Independent originally claimed, be the man who could potentially ‘save America’ from its most divisive leader in history.

As ex-national security advisor, Bolton perhaps has a little more respect than the other mass of disgruntled former Trump colleagues. His time in office and politics generally dwarfs the likes of Steve Bannon and Chris Christie and he’s guaranteed more attention than the likes of Anthony Scaramucci (a recent addition to the failed Bloomberg campaign).

The failed attempts by the above at ‘payback’ against the president all amounted to little more than minor annoyances for Trump. Fire and Fury did little more than disclose the president’s weird eating habits and even books by respected journalists such as Bob Woodward’s Fear did little to sway the typical Trump voter.

Given that Bolton carries more right-wing credentials than any of these authors, his book might have more impact amongst the Conservative community. But his record is also more chequered than you might think. 

As UN ambassador, he allegedly mishandled intelligence reports and was resented. As national security advisor, he carried minimal military experience (he avoided serving in Vietnam), and since his exit from the Trump administration, he’s gone from regular guest to pariah at Fox news.

Bolton’s imperfections will be raised during the book’s launch, but more importantly, the actual weight of whatever revelations contained within the book will have been eclipsed by the events of recent weeks. If Bolton aimed to write something that destroyed Trump then the president’s handling of both the coronavirus and the George Floyd protests have done more to expose his true character and incompetence than Bolton ever could.

Former staffers every bit as senior as Bolton, including John Mattis, have recently opened the floodgates for criticism from all corners of the political spectrum. The president’s approval ratings have dropped and Bolton is, for lack of a better phrase, late to the party. Relationships between Trump and the press have reached an all-time low and his viability for 2020 remains an uncertain prospect.

When Bolton’s book was announced, by contrast, Trump was basking in the glow of not only being cleared in the Mueller probe but having solid approval ratings. The Ukraine scandal that sparked impeachment proceedings threw the democrats a lifeline that, in part due to Bolton’s refusal to testify, ultimately didn’t topple Trump.

Recent legal sparring with the White House has suggested that Bolton’s book, when it hits shelves, may be less juicy than pitched while censorship may ensure that the details of the Ukraine incident remain a mystery. Regardless of this, however, Bolton is a figure fundamentally lacking in credibility who may succeed in flogging a bestseller but won’t win many friends on the left or right.

Crucially he is a man who, despite his clout, has been made irrelevant by recent events. The president’s perception in the eyes of the public is lower than ever, the disapproval is bipartisan, and Bolton may have to ready himself to be just another footnote in the history of a chaotic administration.

As it stands, many cautionary lessons can be learned from John Bolton and his upcoming memoir The Room Where It Happened. Firstly, if you’re an arch-conservative it’s a strange decision to reference ‘Hamilton’ in the title of your memoir, and secondly that when it comes to settling a score in politics timing is everything. 

Bolton’s revelations could have been game-changing at the time of the impeachment proceedings but the weight of everything that’s happened since has made them almost irrelevant to the waiting readership.

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