But, in addition to revealing new dimensions of corruption that are remarkable — even for Trump — the book also deals a huge blow to one of Trump’s leading arguments for reelection: the idea that opponent Joe Biden is soft on China, while Trump is bristling with toughness toward that country.
The Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have obtained Bolton’s book. It reveals that Trump directly asked President Xi Jinping to help him win reelection, telling Xi in 2019 that if China increased agricultural imports from the United States, it would aid his electoral prospects.
Bolton’s book, which is excerpted in the Journal, recounts what happened this way:
In their meeting in Osaka on June 29, Xi told Trump that the U.S.-China relationship was the most important in the world. He said that some (unnamed) American political figures were making erroneous judgments by calling for a new cold war with China.Whether Xi meant to finger the Democrats or some of us sitting on the U.S. side of the table, I don’t know, but Trump immediately assumed that Xi meant the Democrats. Trump said approvingly that there was great hostility to China among the Democrats. Trump then, stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming U.S. presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability and pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win. 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.
If true, Trump basically pleaded with Xi for help in winning reelection by buying up U.S. agricultural products. More recently, Trump spent weeks credulously propping up China’s assurances that it had coronavirus under control, to sustain his monstrous lie that we didn’t have to worry about it here.
That effort on China’s behalf was also meant to preserve Trump’s trade deal with China. That’s not necessarily an objectionable goal, but now we see Trump explicitly tried to shape these dealings around his naked political needs as much as around what’s in the national interest, if not more so.
If reality mattered, this would make it extremely hard for Trump to now argue that he’s tough on China and that Biden is soft. Trump has been making this claim in absurdly lurid ads that laughably rip Biden’s words out of context.
There have also been other Trump TV spots that tell a convoluted story about Hunter Biden and China that is based on falsehoods and surely comes across as white noise to everyone except the hardest-core Trump supporters. Trump’s campaign manager floated the hashtag #BeijingBiden.
On top of all that, vulnerable GOP senators are highlighting Trump’s supposed toughness on China over coronavirus (which, again, is the opposite of what happened) in order to deflect blame for Trump’s own catastrophic botching of it.
Now we’ve learned that he pleaded with China for their help in defeating “Beijing Biden.”
None of this is to suggest that Biden should try to be “tougher” on China than Trump. As we’ve suggested, Biden should argue for renewed U.S. international leadership and a revitalized multinationalism on global health issues as a better alternative to Trump’s blustery nationalism.
Rather, it’s to say that, at this point, whenever Trump claims to be “tough” on China, and cites his trade dealings as evidence of it, then the proper response is to laugh in his face.
China is on a massive disinformation campaign because they are desperate to have Sleepy Joe Biden win the presidential race so they can continue to rip-off the United States, as they have done for decades, until I came along!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 21, 2020
The other revelations in the book further undermine Trump’s case for reelection:
- In a meeting, Xi explained to Trump “why he was basically building concentration camps” to imprison Uighurs, an ethnic minority group, Bolton writes, adding: “Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do.”
- Bolton confirms the essence of the charges made by Democrats in Trump’s impeachment: that he deliberately used frozen military aid as a tool to extort Ukraine to discredit Biden.
- Even many senior staffers are regularly gobsmacked by how erratic, ignorant and incapable Trump is. “He second-guessed people’s motives, saw conspiracies behind rocks, and remained stunningly uninformed on how to run the White House,” Bolton writes.
- Foreign leaders found Trump easy to manipulate. Vladimir Putin once convinced Trump to hedge his support for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó by comparing Guaidó to Hillary Clinton.
- Trump wanted to jail journalists who don’t reveal their sources. “These people should be executed,” the president said. “They are scumbags.”
- In 2018, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave Trump a memo defending a Turkish firm being prosecuted by the Justice Department. “Trump then told Erdogan he would take care of things,” Bolton writes, concluding that, for Trump, “obstruction of justice” is a “way of life.”
- Sanctions against North Korea had to be waived because Trump was so eager to give gifts to Kim Jong Un. He became consumed with having an autographed copy of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” hand-delivered to the dictator. Bolton observes another pattern in which Trump would “in effect, give personal favors to dictators he liked.”
Some of these stories may be comical, but the deeply serious charge is that Trump was eager to make U.S. policy, both foreign and domestic, a servant of his own interests — many tied directly to his reelection — to a far greater extent than we knew.
If Ukraine couldn’t be strong-armed into helping his campaign, maybe China could be persuaded. If China helps him win reelection, then that’s all that matters, no matter what their intentions are or what they hope to accomplish through him.
One irony here is that, as Bloomberg News recently reported, Chinese leaders have concluded that however much they might dislike the trade war, having Trump remain would undermine the Western alliance and weaken the United States, thus boosting China’s global ambitions.
All these new details reinforce the broader pattern in which Trump sees government as nothing more than a tool to advance his own interests, and they add specificity in China’s case. That should make it a whole lot harder for Trump to get away with claiming to the tough-on-China candidate. Which is one of his central reelection arguments.