In an e-mail exchange, Bolton tells me that fundraising continues to grow. He says, “I think both the amount of money (now over $7 million) and the total number of contributors (over 25,000) disproves the conventional wisdom that national security is not a key political issue.” Polls bear out his observation. “The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found 27% of registered voters would like to see the U.S. play a more active role in world affairs, up from 19% back in April. A plurality of 40% still believes the U.S. should be less active on the world stage, but that is down from 47% in April. Republicans, in particular, are decidedly more inclined to support a more robust foreign policy. In April, 45% of self-identified Republicans wanted the U.S. to be less active in the world, while 29% said the country should be more active. In the September survey, Republicans wanted the U.S. to play a greater role in world events by a margin of 41%-34%.”
As for presidential ambitions, he tells me: “I can truly say that I am thinking about 2016 only in terms of keeping foreign and defense policy at the top of the priority list in the national political debate. Policy is uppermost in my mind.”
Indeed, in conversations with the former ambassador to the United Nations over the past few years I always got the impression he was acting out of desire to promote his signature issue, a strong national defense, not necessarily to get into a presidential race. If no one embracing his views decides to run in 2016, however, he might well feel obliged to run.
Regardless of whether he decides to run, though, Bolton’s success in fundraising is significant for a number of reasons.
Bolton is showing that a strong national security campaign can get support and money. As Bolton says: “And how could it not be? Do the political operatives really believe that Americans don’t want to be defended from threats to our country and our citizens?”
That increases the number and outspokenness of hawks — as do world events and the collapse of the Obama foreign policy. In the short term, that gives cover to House and Senate candidates to talk about foreign policy issues. In the long run, those thinking about 2016 can be encouraged if they know there is backing for a staunchly pro-defense Republican. In Bolton’s mind, Republicans never really gave up their national security convictions. “The Republican Party has for years been our only national security party. Nothing has really changed that over the last six years,” he says. “But its real inner beliefs are now on display.”
They are on display in part because of his support. In funding pro-defense House and Senate candidates, Bolton is helping to ensure that the Republicans who do win will be closer to his philosophy than, say, Sen. Rand Paul’s views. It is not just that the new House and Senate are likely to have more Republicans; it is that they are likely to have more hawkish Republicans. There will be no Rand Paul acolytes coming to the Senate. (Even Rand Paul isn’t the Rand Paul of old anymore.)
That, in turn, is going to bolster support for increasing defense spending, keeping the National Security Agency architecture in place, blocking the confirmation of unqualified cronies nominated by President Obama and knocking down (via the bully pulpit and oversight hearings) the silly notion that we can beat the Islamic State from the air. And that will force skittish Republicans to become tougher and more realistic in their foreign policy assessments. Put differently, Joni Ernst, Scott Brown, Dan Sullivan and Tom Cotton aren’t going to be encouraged to follow Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in trimming their sails on an effective war strategy or playing coy on defense spending. Unless he wants to be left behind, Cruz will be obliged to follow them — and adopt a more consistent national security stance.
And if hawkish Republicans are successful at the polls, that may also nudge Democrats at least back to the center on foreign policy. If circling the wagons around a weak White House gets one booted from the Senate, there will be fewer Democrats willing to do it.
In addition, Bolton and others are helping to introduce a new generation of hawkish Republicans. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-N.C.) won’t be around forever, so it is important to begin to seed the Senate with leaders for the next 10 or 20 years. Many of the candidates Bolton is supporting could serve for a very long time and become the sort of foreign policy experts the Senate needs.
Finally, Bolton — if he doesn’t become a candidate himself in 2016 — becomes a helpful addition to a hawkish candidate’s presidential campaign, both as an adviser and a fundraiser. That will benefit the party and that candidate in developing anti-Hillary Clinton arguments. And if he does not run or does not join a campaign, he still becomes a key endorsement for candidates to seek out.
In short, raising a lot of money gives Bolton much more clout than if he had remained simply an expert and talking head on TV. His success is both a reflection of and an accelerator of a more hawkish GOP — and hopefully a smarter one.
UPDATE: Josh Rogin writes, “‘Big money is going toward foreign policy, people are investing in it. Jobs and the economy will always be No. 1, but this has popped from issue maybe 5 or 6 to maybe 2 or 3,’ said Joe Pounder, president of America Rising LLC, which works with several GOP campaigns. ‘ISIS is just one of the things leading to a crisis mentality among voters. And when you don’t have much new in the way of the economy going on, this is the new issue.'”