Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- The White House and Republican Senate leaders have a little better than two weeks to save John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations after last Tuesday's fiasco in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. All that can be promised is that their efforts on Bolton's behalf will be tougher and better organized than they have been so far. That should not be difficult because they could hardly be worse.

 Republicans, weak and disorganized, were ground down by the Democratic juggernaut. Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio was so impressed by Democratic demagoguery that he impulsively dropped his support of Bolton, ending the narrow 10 to 8 committee tally for sending the nomination to the Senate floor. But since Voinovich is notoriously quirky and prone to break his Republican leash, the question arises why the White House was not more attuned to making sure he was safely on board.

 Presidential aides have met with Voinovich since he jumped overboard, beginning the difficult task of reeling him in -- as well as Sens. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Republicans who followed Voinovich away from Bolton. Even if the committee majority somehow is restored, Chairman Richard Lugar will have to defeat efforts by Democrats to bring in Bolton for an auto-da-fe.

 The grim outlook for Bolton constitutes a major victory for the adversarial style practiced by Senate Democrats, with Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut taking the lead. Bolton's undeniable conservative ideology has antagonized the State Department's liberal cadre and its senatorial defenders. His hard line on Fidel Castro has alienated Dodd, whose long-term goal has been normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations. Yet, Dodd on Tuesday made the astounding statement that his opposition to Bolton "has nothing to do with substantive disagreements," only his personal characteristics.

 Dodd, in demanding a postponement of a vote on Bolton, claimed during Tuesday's session that Bolton's management performance "ought to be indictable." He claimed it was "rare indeed for me to express objection to a nominee."

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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