“Who was our last moustached president?” I ask John Bolton as we chat in his American Enterprise Institute office in downtown Washington, DC. “Taft,” he responds without hesitation, “And the last candidate was [Thomas] Dewey—not a comparison I’m excited about.” With a twinkle in his eye, he deadpans, “I think the American people would say it’s a complete non-issue.” The former US Ambassador to the United Nations may be willing to joke about his trademark facial hair, but as the 2012 election cycle looms, he sounds like a man who is seriously evaluating his own presidential aspirations.
Up to this point, Bolton has merely piqued the chattering class’ interest by refusing to foreclose the possibility of a presidential bid in a recent Daily Caller profile piece, and again during a Fox Business Network interview. Citing his chief priority of ensuring Republican gains in the 2010 midterm election, Bolton still won’t say if he’s planning to toss his hat into the ring, but now at least allows that he is “thinking about it very seriously”—a fairly significant rhetorical step toward to taking the plunge. It isn’t a new consideration either, he says. “I’ve been thinking about this really since it became clear early in the Obama administration that [the president’s] national security policy would be as bad as we feared it would be.”
Although Bolton denies he’s doing any heavy groundwork to set up a 2012 campaign, he’s not sitting still either. “What I am doing is talking to people who are experts on presidential campaigns because I’ve never run for elective office before,” he explains, before parenthetically pointing out that he is familiar with campaign finance law by dint of his work on the landmark 1976 Supreme Court case Buckley v. Valeo. I ask if he’s planning any trips to Iowa in the relatively near future, a question that he adroitly sidesteps with a chuckle and a change of subject.