John Bolton was Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor, and then it fell apart. In the interview he talks about the mistakes in dealing with the president, his place in history – and about the dispute with Germany that will remain.
John Bolton passes harsh judgment on the man he served as National Security Advisor in the White House for 17 months. Donald Trump will “definitely go down in history as the worst US president,” said the Republican in an interview with t-online.
Bolton portrays the fear of many Republican politicians of the outgoing president as exaggerated. His party could quickly free itself from the clutches of Trump. “Trump will have more to do with the investigation into him and with his business and financial problems than with our party.”
The foreign policy hardliner, on the other hand, warns Europe and Germany that the major issues of the Trump era will persist even under President Joe Biden – and is hoping for a certain initiative from Angela Merkel in recent months in office.
t-online: Mr. Bolton, did you work for the worst US president of all time?
John Bolton: Yes, I think Trump will definitely go down in history as the worst US president. So far, James Buchanan has been considered the worst for breaking the United States in 1860 before the Civil War. But Trump will dispute this place for him. What happened with the storming of the Capitol on January 6th was truly an offense worthy of impeachment. That a president would field a mob against his own government was terrible and a very, very sad day for America.
So you are in favor of formally removing Trump from office?
No. I think his offense was bad enough for that, but I don’t see the benefit of going into this major constitutional process now. To do this, one would have to prove that this path is more useful than the variant of simply making Trump disappear. He will soon face criminal investigations anyway. The absolute worst punishment for Trump would be to simply ignore him in the future. Impeachment achieves the opposite.
John Bolton, 72, is a Republican hardliner on foreign and security policy. He served as the UN ambassador under George W. Bush and was a vocal supporter of the Iraq war. He rejected the nuclear deal with Iran and, as Donald Trump’s national security advisor, brought the Americans out of the agreement. About his time in the White House, which ended in September 2019 because of persistent differences with Trump, he wrote the book “The Room Where Everything Happened”.
You have been working in the field of national security for decades. What are the consequences of such an attack, which is broadcast around the world in real time?
It is very damaging to our country. You don’t want to see something like that in a democratic society. It was a catastrophic security failure that needs to be investigated. It also throws a terrible light on Donald Trump that he was part of it – and I don’t think we already know everything about his role. However, I think that it will accelerate his departure as a formative force on the political stage.
Well, even on the night after the attack, two thirds of your party friends in the House of Representatives voted against the confirmation of Joe Biden’s election victory and thus played Trump’s game. Are you ashamed of your party?
Many who voted like this were intimidated by Trump, unnecessarily in my view. My party’s failure came before Trump spreading his claims of a stolen election for weeks despite being rejected by courts across the country. Much more Republicans should have raised their voices. One of the repair jobs for us Republicans now is to make it clear to as many as possible that Trump really lost.
Trump has long since convinced many supporters at the party base of his lie. How much power will he have in the future?
Of the 74 million voters who voted for Trump, more than 90 percent would also have voted for a cardboard comrade set up by the Republican Party. It’s the same on the other side. When he moves from the most powerful room in the world, the Oval Office, to the swimming pool in Mar-a-Lago on January 20th, everything will change. Trump does not have the party in his hands. That makes room for sensible Republicans. We have this proverb in politics here: If sensible politicians do not take care of the needs of the citizens, unreasonable politicians will. This is how you get a Trump.
Aren’t you too optimistic about that? In our last conversation in August, you said that after the election the party would turn away from Trump very quickly. It turned out differently.
Former presidents are yesterday’s news. Trump will have more to do with the investigation into him and with his business and financial problems than with our party. If he leaves office, things will not look good for him personally and financially.
Famous scene from the G7 summit in Canada in 2018: Bolton watches Angela Merkel and Donald Trump. (Source: Jesco Denzel / Federal Government / Getty Images)
The president is said to have enjoyed the excess of violence on television on January 6th. Do these reports match the president you saw up close at the White House?
I think these reports are absolutely credible. In my book I suggested that someone should do a work time study for Trump and compare the times they spend in the Oval Office and in the small dining room next to it, where there is a large TV screen on the wall. In my mind’s eye I can literally see him sitting there and watching the spectacle. He was probably fascinated by the acting. After all, it was all about Donald Trump, and that’s his favorite subject.
Will you ever speak to Donald Trump again?
At least I’m not looking forward to it if we should.
- Publisher: Das neue Berlin
- Hardback edition
- ISBN: 978-3360013712
Let’s look ahead. The new US administration has made it clear that it wants to repair Trump’s damaged relations with its allies in Europe. What will depend on whether this really works?
It would be a mistake if Europe thinks that with Trump’s departure, certain issues will simply disappear. His complaints about trade policy remain relevant, and both sides need to break down trade barriers. Trump’s complaints about NATO and the burden-sharing within the alliance will also remain topical. Germany would make no more friends with the Democrats in Washington than with the Republicans if defense spending was cut back to 1.1 percent of economic output. I would definitely not recommend that. The Germans also have to pay their fair share.
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Will a common strategy for dealing with China be found without Trump?
The Biden government will surprise many Europeans with a confrontational China policy. It won’t be as hard as I would like it to be, but harder than people in Europe think.
How should Germany deal with it?
Angela Merkel suggested to Donald Trump at numerous meetings that they should unite against China where they have similar interests: in the theft of intellectual property and in Beijing’s unfair trade practices. If the opinion of the Americans in the room had been asked at these meetings, we would all have been in favor, with the exception of Trump. While Merkel is still in office, President Biden should propose these joint initiatives again.
Mr Bolton, thank you for talking to us.