- - Sunday, February 2, 2020

Nobody elected John Bolton to anything. 

That reality is at the core of what appeared to frustrate Mr. Bolton and numerous other senior presidential aides during my time working in the West Wing for President Trump.

As a staffer, if you have a policy disagreement with the president, you have two options: You either subordinate your views to his and fulfill his wishes — or you quit. That does not mean you shy away from making your case behind closed doors — and in my experience the president encouraged dissenting views — but once the president makes a decision, it is your job to execute it with the same vigor you would if it had been your idea all along. 

That was the entire premise of my book, “Team of Vipers,” which laid out in great detail the exasperation of working in an administration where the duly elected president is undermined by people who refuse to subordinate their views to his, or have selfish motives, or have visions of grandeur and think they know how to run their country better than he does — or in Mr. Bolton’s case, some combination of all of those. 

It is well known that Mr. Bolton favored a much more adventurous foreign policy than the president, or as many of us who worked with or around him often said, “He basically wants to carpet bomb the planet.” And since the president would not let him, Mr. Bolton has apparently decided to seek retribution by publishing a book that the National Security Council says contains Top Secret information.



You see, for all Mr. Bolton’s many faults and weaknesses, he is no dummy. His colleagues viewed him as shrewd, calculating and deliberate. He picks his spots, carefully. So for those who know him, it is hardly a surprise that he waited until just the right moment to insert himself into the national debate — at a moment of historical significance — to shift the spotlight onto himself in dramatic fashion.

And suddenly, as a result of this self-serving betrayal of the president, Mr. Bolton has magically transitioned from being dismissed or ridiculed by much of the mainstream media, to being placed on a pedestal as an honest broker, rather than the disgruntled former staffer he clearly is.

After all, any reasonable reporting would have to point out that in August 2019, before Mr. Bolton was fired from his post, he said in an interview that combating “corruption” in Ukraine was a “high priority” for the president, while making no mention of any nefarious quid pro quo. In that clip, it sure sounded like Mr. Bolton was in lockstep with the president’s anti-corruption Ukrainian agenda. But now that it is time to sell a book, he has decided to change his mind?

There is a disturbing trend in mainstream media coverage in which aides who undermine the president are glorified, as if there is something patriotic about subverting the agenda of a man democratically elected by the American people. In a typical moment in history, these people would be derided as anti-democratic and dangerous threats to our entire system.

There is a popular Internet meme that even the president has occasionally posted on social media, in which Mr. Trump is staring, stone-faced straight ahead and pointing at the camera, and the caption reads: “In reality they’re not after me. They’re after you. I’m just in the way.”

There is some truth to that. 

For all of the president’s many accomplishments in office — and I would contend that he is the first politician in history to be eviscerated by the media for actually fulfilling his promises — his greatest accomplishment of all may be somehow getting his opponents to expose themselves to be — or to turn themselves into — exactly what he says they are. 

Throughout this absurd impeachment debacle, members of Congress have largely shown themselves to be the spineless opportunists he told the country they were. The “fake news” media has gotten so out­raged at his broadsides — and committed to showing Mr. Trump to be unfit for office — that they continue to lurch from one half-truth or manufactured narrative to the next.

And the Swamp — of which John Bolton has been a decades-long denizen — has sought to sink Mr. Trump’s presidency at every turn. Meanwhile, the president’s approval rating has steadily risen, as he’s focused on methodically implementing policies that actually improve the lives of American citizens, while Democrats have allowed their every waking moment to be consumed by their hatred for Mr. Trump.

But if Mr. Trump’s approach to the job can be summed up in “America First,” Mr. Bolton’s entire career could be summed up in “Bolton First.” And in some ways that is hardly a surprise — we all knew he was a self-promoter. We just never imagined he would also become a promoter of the failed agenda of Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff. Say it ain’t so, John. Say it ain’t so.

• Cliff Sims is the author of “Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House” and a former special assistant to the president and director of White House message strategy for President Donald J. Trump.

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