WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Cruz was once such a big fan of John Bolton that he pushed for President Trump to hire him as his national security adviser. He promised in his own 2016 presidential run that if elected, he’d pick “someone like John Bolton” as his secretary of state. When Trump and Bolton acrimoniously parted ways, Cruz openly fretted the “deep state” had ousted his “friend.”
Would he stand by Bolton now that he could be a damning witness in Trump’s Senate impeachment trial?
“Well, let me first of all say I think this afternoon was devastating to House managers’ case,” the Texas Republican said Monday night when asked by VICE News if Trump’s national security adviser was “honest and trustworthy.” He twice dodged follow-up questions about whether he trusted his old ally to tell the truth, since Bolton’s forthcoming book undercuts core parts of Trump’s defense.
Trump is on the warpath against his former national security adviser as the impeachment trial proceeds toward a vote on whether to hear from witnesses. And his most sycophantic Senate backers are echoing his attacks that Bolton is a disgruntled ex-employee only interested in selling books — while others in the GOP refuse to defend their old ally.
A wave of blistering criticism from many Republicans and stony silence from Bolton’s onetime allies is the latest example of what happens to Republicans who cross the president. It doesn’t matter your policy views. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done for the country, or for the party. It doesn’t matter who your friends and allies are. If you dare criticize Trump, you’re in it.
“For those of us who are Republican foreign policy conservatives, John is in the pantheon of our heroes,” said former Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). “But in a world when the president absolutely commands the Republican Party, in a presidential election year, I understand people siding against John. … People oftentimes will side with party over patriotism in an election year.”
As Cruz and other longtime Bolton allies refused to come to Bolton’s defense, their colleagues attacked.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) dismissed this week’s bombshell report that Bolton’s new book says Trump told him directly of a quid pro quo with Ukraine as “a story about selected leaks from a book you can preorder on Amazon.com from John Bolton.” When asked if Bolton was honest, Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) called him “irascible.”
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), who took $5,000 in donations from Bolton’s PAC in his last Senate race, lumped Bolton in with indicted former Trump crony Lev Parnas.
“Their allegations would be more credible coming from other people,” he said. “They both have reasons to be angry at the president.”
The Republican National Committee blasted out an email with the subject line “That’s one way to boost book sales.” Even Bolton’s longtime friend and former two-time chief of staff, Fled Fleitz, wrote an op-ed calling for him to retract his book manuscript.
Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations for President George W. Bush, was until last fall Trump’s national security adviser. He’s been a leading voice for saber-rattling conservatives for two decades and is an eminence grise for the neoconservative wing of the GOP. He’s raised and donated millions of dollars to Republican candidates — including a combined $275,000 to 29 of the 53 Republicans currently in office. And his alliances with many of the Senate’s more hawkish Republicans ran far deeper. But all that means nothing in an era where fealty to Trump is the only coin of the realm for Republicans.
The president himself was quick to try to discredit his former national security adviser. Trump tweeted that Bolton’s alleged claims were “only to sell a book,” while tweaking Bolton for his “very public firing” (Trump insists he fired Bolton, while Bolton says he quit).
He’s followed up with a string of furious attacks against Bolton.