Since shortly before dawn on November 5, 2008, when the 2012 presidential race began, the lack of political acumen among Republicans vying for the next crack at Barack Obama has sunk them in an electoral malaise, a forlorn sense of ho-humness among party activists and likely voters that presages another four years of the Obama regime.
Those now in the top tier according to RealClearPolitics.com — Huckabee, Romney, Palin, and Gingrich, in that order — have been so alike in their condemnations of Obama’s domestic policies and in their generalized policy pronouncements that they have only worsened the malaise. And as others have stuck their toes in, there have been brief media-propelled moments of enthusiasm, but no movement among activists and voters sufficient to boost any of them to approach leadership.
It’s still about nine months before the first primaries so, old-school experts assure us, there’s plenty of time to unify around a compelling candidate. That may have been true in 2001, but no longer. As Obama proved in 2008, a candidate must be able to raise nearly $1 billion in funds and create a massive organization that is ready to conduct a national primary campaign’s ground game beginning this fall. That will take a long time and the clock is running down fast.
We of the scribbling class have prescribed a long list of criteria that the next nominee must satisfy in order to win. In combination, those criteria would describe someone who is an electrifying speaker with a dull personality, who has the executive experience of a big-state governor and profound foreign policy credentials, and is the budget equivalent of a grand master of chess who can save us from Barack-induced bankruptcy without touching Social Security or Medicare.
Neither is there such person nor is there a magic recipe for baking a sure-to-win candidate. I thought that Indiana Cong. Mike Pence would be close to an ideal candidate because he is the kind of calm, competent conservative we can trust and has a big enough personality to turn out the vote. But Pence — thinking of his family — took himself out of contention.
We need to start thinking seriously about who has the political skills, the education and experience and the personality to defeat Obama. We need to start thinking about John Bolton.
At Rep. Steve King’s recent Iowa cattle call, the former UN ambassador was introduced, according to a Washington Post report, as a diplomatic Dirty Harry, standing guard with “law books and .44 in hand” asking the world’s bad guys, “Feeling lucky, punks?” The global punk community — in the UN, in Old Europe, in the Senate Democratic cloakroom and the New York Times editorial suite — must feel lucky that Bolton is not our president.
But my friend John Bolton is not some heavily-armed avenger. I know him to be the same kind of calm, competent conservative that Pence is, and with the kind of experience and political skill that is the stuff of which leaders are made. And there is no reason to believe that Bolton will not enter the race.
Bolton’s political skill and judgment have not been given the attention they deserve. Many of the things he’s said and written evidence a kind of skill and judgment not yet discovered among the other would-be candidates.
For example, Bolton — at the Iowa cattle call — told Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Weisman that the Republican candidate in 2012 can’t rest his campaign only on Obama’s destruction of our economy. He said, “Politicians, like generals, have a tendency to fight the last war,” adding “We have to guard against solely complaining about the manifest inadequacies of Barack Obama’s domestic policies.”
That doesn’t mean the candidate shouldn’t campaign against Obama’s spending spree and Obamacare, just that they won’t be the only issues that will drive a successful campaign. The other big issue — national security — is one where Bolton is obviously stronger than the rest of the field.
For example, Bolton has condemned Obama’s war of choice in Libya in clear and compelling terms. In a new National Review piece, he condemned Obama’s deference to the UN and “humanitarian” basis for intervention as “a gauzy, limitless doctrine without any anchor in U.S. national interests.”
And he makes precisely the right point: “Let’s be blunt. The question comes down to this in every case: How many dead Americans is it worth to you?” Bolton is no neocon, no advocate of nation-building. He would, as this article says, ground American foreign policy only in U.S. national interests. And, most importantly, Bolton would renew the social contract between the White House and the troops which binds the president to spend American lives only when absolutely necessary, and not waste them in places such as Libya.
What is stunning about this is not that Bolton said it but that none of the other candidates have.
The title of Bolton’s 2007 book, Surrender Is Not an Option, is misleading. It evokes images of the confrontational “Dirty Harry” mentality of the Iowa cattle call introduction. But that’s not where it came from. As Bolton wrote, it came from his days as a high-school student volunteering for Barry Goldwater in 1964:
If the sustained and systematic distortion of a fine man’s philosophy could succeed, abetted by every major media outlet in the country, overwhelmingly supported by the elite academic institutions… it was time to fight back. If the United States was in such parlous condition that people who showed off their appendectomy scars in public and held up beagles by their ears could get elected president, something had to be done. Surrender was not an option.
Bolton understands the complicity of the media in destroying Goldwater and supporting liberal candidates from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama. Next year, the media will be more hostile, more politically active in promoting Obama and in degrading Republicans than in any past election. Bolton’s experience in 1964 and since — in his confirmation hearings to be UN ambassador, which nomination ultimately failed — may have taught him the lessons a candidate will need in 2012 to know how to overcome that media activism.
The biggest question for Bolton is whether events will prove his principal thesis: that the dangers facing America abroad are equally important to the economic problems at home. The most likely scenario for 2012 will do just that.
Obama can, to a large degree, manipulate the economy so that — even without recovery — he can claim that his economic policies have resulted in a real recovery. He can also rely on the media to tout even the most fallacious claims of success. Jobless numbers, for example, are shrinking slightly, as a result of the massive retirements of Baby Boomers, not the creation of jobs. The price of gasoline is rising rapidly, but you can count on the Obama White House getting campaign assistance from Middle Eastern nations willing to bring the price down just before the election.
Since he took office, with only brief periods of interruption, Obama has been able to take existential issues of national security and foreign policy out of the media spotlight. But as Obama begins to withdraw our forces from Afghanistan and the failure of nation-building there and in Iraq becomes obvious to all but the willfully ignorant, as Israel’s well-justified resistance to the creation of a Palestinian state faces UN action to recognize one, and as Obama’s weakness continues to provoke all of our adversaries abroad, separating foreign policy from the presidential campaign will be more and more difficult.
The world takes John Bolton seriously. We should, too.