It was a start, but it was not enough for John Bolton, the former U.N. ambassador who has been trying to shape his party's debate.
"You don’t make strategy by throwing a bunch of pick-up sticks on the table and seeing what emerges," he said in an interview. "Tactics flow deductively from a real strategy. It’s not enough in my view for my candidates to deliver stump speeches written by their expert staffs. It’s not enough to download 50 'tough' talking points and an 'act natural' algorithm."
Bolton, one of the few national Republican figures to pass on a 2016 bid, is kicking off a six-figure ad campaign, starting online to introduce a "Bolton Test" to the 2016 race -- even though he really doesn't want the debate to be about him. "I’m a policy wonk, not a PR person, but I acknowledge in a PR battle here," he said. "My op-ed average is one a week. I’ve got appearances on Fox News God knows how many times per month. What I’m interested in is less affecting the candidates than affecting the discussion."
The ad starts online Tuesday, and a new ad will arrive next week, supplementing the newspaper ads that Bolton's non-profit, the Foundation for American Security and Freedom, has already purchased. The "test" consists of five big questions about "America's place in the world," defense spending, and the "primary threats and opportunities America faces abroad." That's it: The candidate need not necessarily endorse Bolton's own anti-ISIS prescription. Unlike some of the 2016 race's competitors, Bolton is not ruling anyone out any candidate based on a prior position. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), for example, has called Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) an opportunist for opposing direct military action against Syria in 2013. Bolton, who generally declines to criticize Republican candidates, said anyone's welcome to prove himself.
"I believe in redemption," Bolton said. "What I want to see is how people evolve. I don’t care what the pre-programmed answer was, and whether it was popular or unpopular. That, for example is what’s wrong with Hillary. Whatever the conventional wisdom was, she went to the left." (Bolton was not convinced by Clinton's argument that she'd wanted intervention in Syria when President Obama did not, saying that her memoir "Hard Choices" provided no real evidence of that.)
Bolton would not say which Republicans he was giving advice to, or how often he did so, as it would be "an inhibition" to more conversations if he revealed the details. The only Republican he'd criticize, as ever, was Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). He'd failed the test already.
"The reason I singled Rand Paul out a year ago was that the media was trying to make him a serious candidate," Bolton said. "I give him credit for consistency, but it never was his season, because he didn’t have a season with his views. Liberals just want a Republican to validate what they think, and he was doing that. I view that now as an irrelevancy to the big questions."
Those questions were big enough that Bolton wouldn't criticize Donald Trump, or his voters, for suggesting that "bombing the s--t out of ISIS" was a good enough response to its terror. He'd implied as much -- it was not a strategy -- and if people listened to his ads and started grilling the candidates beyond the easy "tough" responses.
"Politics as practiced right now is not an ideological debate, but I’m trying to move it in that direction," he said. "In an age of Twitter, for God's sake, if you can get people to listen to more than 140 characters you're in good shape. This is not a university... National security has to be the top issue, not coming after common core or Medicaid expansion or inequality or something."