It’s starting to look as though the question isn’t who Donald Trump asked to assist him in his 2020 bid but who he didn’t. Former national security adviser John Bolton reports in his forthcoming 592-page memoir, The Room Where It Happened, that Trump seems to have asked Chinese President Xi Xinping to lend him a hand during a summit dinner last year. Add that to the ‘favor’ he asked for from Ukraine and you have a portrait of a President who was desperate for help wherever and whenever he could find it. Maybe Trump had it right: if his current prospects are anything to go by he could definitely use a lift from abroad. Was this his personal version of what international law calls ‘anticipatory self-defense?’
According to Bolton, Trump thought that Xi was talking about Democrats when he alluded to critics of China in America. Accordingly to Bolton, ‘He then, stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming US presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability to affect the ongoing campaigns, pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win,’ Bolton writes. ‘He stressed the importance of farmers, and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome. I would print Trump’s exact words but the government’s prepublication review process has decided otherwise.’ There is more. Trump apparently was perplexed that the administration was contemplating sanctioning China over its imprisonment of the Uighurs. Bolton writes, ‘According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do.’ So much for Trump’s claim that he has been tougher on China than anyone.
Bolton will be dismissed by Trump and his retinue as an disgruntled ex-employee. He is. He has a lot to be less than gruntled about. But Bolton, a lifelong Republican and conservative stalwart, lands some powerful punches. Where he goes astray is in his contention that had the Democrats should have taken a more synoptic view of Trump’s misdeeds during impeachment: ‘Had Democratic impeachment advocates not been so obsessed with their Ukraine blitzkrieg in 2019, had they taken the time to inquire more systematically about Trump’s behavior across his entire foreign policy, the impeachment outcome might well have been different.’ Nah. The trial, or at least the House investigation, might have ground on for a few extra weeks, but the result would have been the same. It was foreordained. The only thing that might have prodded a few Republican senators to have a few misgivings would have been testimony at the time for Bolton.
Actually, the appearance of his memoir may now deliver more of a blow to Trump, coming as it does at a moment when the President is reeling from the trifecta of a pandemic, a collapsing economy and a fresh round of racial tumult. Attorney General William P. Barr is seeking to quash Bolton’s book, but his efforts are only drawing more attention to it. Coupled with the new book from his niece Mary, which is bound to air all sorts of dirty family linen and slated to appear in July, Trump can’t catch a break. Even his convention in Jacksonville, where the coronavirus is taking off, may be in doubt. Trump tweeted, ‘GAME OVER!’ earlier this year in disparagement of Bolton, but it is his former adviser who is scoring big time with his new memoir even as his boss fumes helplessly.