Former Bush administration United Nations ambassador John Bolton wants the 2016 Republican primary to focus on national security. In order to accomplish that, he wants America to know that he’s considering running for president.
“I don’t see why it shouldn’t be a John Bolton vs. Rand Paul debate,” Bolton told The Daily Caller, revising a question about whether the 2016 foreign policy split will center on hawkish Jeb Bush against libertarian-leaning Rand Paul.
Sitting by a wintry Boston hotel room window after the snowstorm cancellation of his planned “Politics and Eggs” political breakfast in New Hampshire (a traditional stopping point for early primary contenders), Bolton spoke candidly over the phone about his presidential aspirations.
A decade after his thankless but high-profile 2005-2006 stint as Bush’s U.N. ambassador during the dog days of the Iraq War, Bolton has the pedigree of an American Enterprise Institute senior fellowship and speaking engagements around the world. As for the White House? Well, he’s got a PAC, he’s talking to donors and he’s got an issue.
Oh, and he’s not too keen on Rand Paul.
“As I did in the 2012 cycle I’m considering it because I remain of the view that national security has slipped out of the national debate. I’ve been looking into ways to get it back to where it belongs,” Bolton said. “Reality has a way of intruding on political operatives and, forgive me, the political media. That happened when ISIS started beheading hostages.”
“Based on all the activity I’ve seen, the neo-isolationist strand in the Republican Party is very small. I mean very small. The success that Rand Paul is having is due to his domestic libertarian policies. A lot of people are not aware of what Rand Paul’s views are on foreign policy. But the people who support Rand Paul on national security issues is very, very small.”
“I’m determined to avoid what happened last time at one of the debates where they actually got to asking Herman Cain what flavor of pizza he liked before the first foreign policy question of the night.”
Can Bolton compete?
“By the time I had the idea and did the research on it it was far too late,” Bolton said of his 2012 plan to run for president. “In the meantime, what I did for the 2014 cycle is I set up a PAC and super PAC for candidates that supported a strong defense policy.”
BoltonPAC and its related super PAC raised about $7.5 million in the 2014 election cycle for Republican candidates including North Carolina’s Thom Tillis (winner) and New Hampshire’s Scott Brown (loser). Bolton said that he’s talking to the same people that contributed to his PAC in the past and is confident that they’ll pitch in again if he goes for the presidency.
Of the three individuals that kicked in at least half a million to his super PAC last year — Arkansas businessman Warren Stephens, hedge fund executive Robert Mercer and Houston Texans owner Bob McNair — only Mercer is a major heavyweight in Republican donor circles. And there’s no guarantee that Mercer would fork over another $1 million for a Bolton candidacy as opposed to a fund for candidates like Tillis and Brown.
And $7.5 million isn’t exactly “go-the-distance” material in a modern Republican primary. Odds are, Bolton would be out shortly after getting his licks in during an early debate.
So what would he talk about in such a debate? “Victory in our war against radical Islam” would be the theme. Iran would probably come up.
“Since 1979 Iran has been the central banker of international terrorism, both Sunni and Shi’a. The impunity that Iran would have from retaliation if it had a nuclear weapon is extremely dangerous. If the Taliban and al-Qaida had nuclear weapons after 9/11 our response to the attacks would have been very different.”
When it comes to radical Islamic terrorism in the Middle East, Bolton said, “the president is not willing to talk to the American people like adults about this problem.”
But the apparent inevitability of radical Islam spreading rapidly through the Middle East does not have to be an inevitability at all.
“After WWI, people would have said there are communist revolutions breaking out everywhere. Is communism going to be a permanent trend in the world?”
“Decline of American influence in the Middle East is a major reason the region itself is flipping into chaos over the past six years. I don’t think it’s inevitable that the tide of radical Islam is going to go on forever. In the past month, [Egyptian president Abdel Fattah] el-Sisi went to the biggest Coptic cathedral in Egypt and called for a revolution in Islam because we can’t have the rest of the world thinking 1.6 billion Muslims want to kill all of them,” Bolton said.
“Nobody has to tell el-Sisi what the threat of radical Islam is because he sees it in the Muslim Brotherhood supporters opposing him in his country every day, and he’s still willing to say this. The question should be, where are we when we should be standing with el-Sisi?”
Bolton said that he doesn’t have a set timetable for his announcement.
“Right now, people are reacting to names, not policies. I want people to start thinking about policies.”