John Bolton 2016?

Posted: Aug 23, 2013 10:41 AM

Fans of the 'stache, rejoice.  Former US Ambassador to the United Nations and foreign policy analyst John Bolton is contemplating a 2016 presidential run.  National Review's Robert Costa reports:

How serious is John Bolton about potentially running for president? He’s about to start hiring for his political operation.  The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and conservative star is ready to hit the road, play in the 2014 midterm elections, and flesh out his domestic-policy views —including his support for gay marriage — in preparation for throwing his hat in the ring in 2016...He wants to be president of the United States, or, at the very least, a provocative contender for the Republican nomination in 2016. “My hypothesis is that voters are practical and they care more about national security than the media seems to believe; I think, right now, especially after two terms of President Obama, they want a president who has the know-how to lead during a crisis, a president who can defend our national interests,” he says.  

When I mention that such a bid, however well intentioned, would be fraught with difficulty, Bolton immediately acknowledges that the idea of a run sounds fanciful — even to his wife and daughter, who have expressed their own reservations. “It’d maybe be a little unorthodox,” he admits. And until now, he has kept quiet about his brewing plan, so as not to invite scorn from his critics until he gets his political shop up and running. But these days, he thinks about it nearly daily, and the prospect excites him more than any other project has since his time at the U.N. Soon enough, he says, he’ll be talking more about it at rubber-chicken dinners, so now’s as fitting a time as any to be more candid.  Over the past few months, Bolton confides, he has called veteran Republican strategists and friends from the Bush years, informally pitching them on what he envisions as a policy-driven, hawkish campaign.

I profiled Bolton back in 2011, when he was mulling an upstart 2012 bid that never materialized.  Why would the next cycle be any different?

“You may recall that I thought about running back in late 2011, and looked into it, but since running for president has become this massive, four-year endeavor, [and] I didn’t have an operation in place, I decided against it,” Bolton says. “Then I ended up watching the Republican debates, and I got furious when I saw Herman Cain being asked about pizza before he was asked about foreign policy. I thought to myself, ‘This is horrible. We’re letting the media run these debates, and no one is discussing the issues...After that, I sat back and thought that if I had the chance, I had to do something more for my party and my country than idly watching as the debate on foreign policy and America’s role in the world devolves into these bumper-sticker slogans, or veers toward the isolationist undercurrent that’s growing,” he continues. “That means forming a political-action committee and a super PAC, hitting the road and speaking out, and looking into my own campaign, and I’m doing all of that.”  For now, Bolton, officially speaking, is a one-man exploratory campaign, but he hopes to hire a small staff in the coming months. A few hires are already on his radar, but he declines to name them. “Bottom line, I’m going to play in 2014 races, testing whether a foreign-policy-focused political organization or candidacy can find a way to shape the national debate,” he says.

Staffing up is, if nothing else, a sign of seriousness.  What might Republican primary voters expect from a Bolton presidential campaign?  A lot of attention paid to national security and international affairs, unsurprisingly -- despite the sense that such issues aren't necessarily sitting atop most voters' priority lists these days.  But in addition to advocating a muscular and clearly-defined American foreign policy, Bolton will also wade into economic and social issues:

“I have the advantage or disadvantage of having never run before, and I speak in longer sentences than you find on Twitter,” he says. “But that’s part of my hypothesis. People are ready for something with more depth.” On domestic issues, he says, he’s a self-proclaimed “libertarian,” which he knows will jar people who think he’s interested in running purely to irk Senator Rand Paul, another likely 2016 candidate and Bolton’s ideological opposite on foreign policy. “My argument is that you can’t protect your liberties at home unless we are protected internationally,” he says. “I think that argument can have currency across the Republican spectrum.” “I can go to voters and tell them, without reservation, that I’m for limited government, as much as possible, on taxes, on regulations, but on foreign policy, I want to make sure we’re protected,” Bolton explains. “It’d be a mix of being against nanny-ism and libertarianism. On abortion, I’m about the same as Reagan; I’m against it except in the cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother. On gay marriage, I support it, at both the state level and the federal level. Gay marriage is something I’ve thought about at length as I’ve looked at my future. I concluded, a couple years ago, that I think it should be permissible and treated the same at both levels.”

Neither of the latter two positions are dramatic departures from where Bolton stood when we chatted two years ago, although he's spelled out his abortion stance more specifically and formalized his support for same-sex marriage.  Bolton's potential entrance into the 2016 fray comes at a moment when the Republican Party is in the throes of a national security identity crisis.  If Bolton runs, he'll be the most deeply-informed and articulate counterweight to the worldview of Sen. Rand Paul, who represents the non-interventionist wing of the party.  In today's political environment, a political novice running a foreign-policy-driven "hawkish" campaign may seem like a quixotic exercise.  But one never knows how world events may impact the national climate by mid-2015.  Even if Bolton's candidacy never catches on, he seems intent on forcing voters to at least think more carefully about issues he believes are being neglected by the media and political class.  Say what you will about Bolton, he's not a frivolous man, and he won't take kindly to unserious debate formats or questions.  I'll leave you with the former ambassador's analysis on the state of play in Egypt.  Spoiler: He bucks the populist consensus that the Obama administration should withdraw financial assistance to the Egyptian military.  Try to envision the intense, substantive tete-a-tetes that could arise between Bolton and Rand Paul on a hypothetical debate stage.  If nothing else, it would make for compelling television.  Costa quotes the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol urging Bolton to take the plunge: "Run, John, run!"  Will Republican voters chant along?

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