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John Bolton Wants Republicans To 'Acknowledge The Reality' Of A Biden Presidency


President Trump's former national security adviser is appealing to his fellow Republicans. John Bolton wants them to abandon President Trump and admit the reality that he lost the election. He spoke to Steve Inskeep.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Bolton is a polarizing figure. He entered the Trump administration as a deeply experienced diplomat who was often criticized for hawkish policies. By the time he left the administration, he was portrayed as more mainstream than his boss. He's always had many supporters among Republicans in Congress, and he says he wants to address those fellow Republicans.

JOHN BOLTON: The arguments that Trump and his campaign are making on the conspiracy to deny him reelection is this conspiracy is so vast and so successful that apparently there's no evidence of it.

INSKEEP: Some Senate Republicans have said it's time for the president to cooperate with his inevitable transition. Few have called out the president for lying on television that he won or for the false conspiracy theories and disinformation he has spread for months. An agency of the Department of Homeland Security yesterday declared this election, quote, "the most secure in American history." And so, for his fellow Republicans, Bolton has a warning.

BOLTON: Donald Trump has one paramount interest in life, and that's Donald Trump, whereas the party has higher interests - the country and the party.

INSKEEP: Why is someone like Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, apparently going along with that? McConnell has defended the president's right to go to court, which is fine, but has also declined to acknowledge the results of the election.

BOLTON: Well, I can't speak to anybody's motivation, but my point is it's a truism to say people have a right to avail themselves of appropriate election law remedies. There's no doubt about that. But does it make sense? Is it prudent? Does it help the country? And the answer is, if the president has evidence and has arguments to overcome the majorities against him in key states, then where are they?

INSKEEP: What is it you want your fellow Republicans to do, then?

BOLTON: Acknowledge the reality that Biden is the president-elect. They may not like it, but the country deserves to give him the preparation he needs. A gracious president who kept the country's interest first would acknowledge that.

INSKEEP: Is there evidence for your point of view in the fundraising emails that the president's campaign has sent out? And these are fundraising emails that appeal for money for the president's legal defense fund. But then the fine print says the money goes first to his personal political action committee, then to the Republican Party and only then, if there's some left over, would it go to any legal defense.

BOLTON: Now, I know that's been reported, and it's typical. This is kind of a con game. And it's unfortunate that people are going to think they're contributing to a legal defense fund. Honestly, what they should be contributing to is the campaigns for the Republican nominees for the two Senate runoffs in Georgia.

INSKEEP: It's very interesting, though, Ambassador, you mentioned the upcoming Senate runoff races - two races that will decide control of the U.S. Senate. It's been widely presumed that Republican Party leaders have been reluctant to criticize the president because they want the party unified for those runoffs. The two Republican candidates have both made a baseless demand that the Republican secretary of state in Georgia resign because of completely undefined problems with the election. It seems that some of your fellow Republicans are making a political calculation that it's good for them to promote conspiracy theories.

BOLTON: Well, I'm not - again, I can't speak to any particular individual. But all I'm saying is that showing disagreement with the president is not fatal to your political future. I'm not asking anybody to climb Mount Suribachi and plant the American flag on top of it. I'm just saying, for example, agree that Biden and key people on his transition team should have full access to intelligence briefings; agree that, at least on the national security agencies, the individual transition teams at the State Department, the Defense Department, the - the intelligence community can begin their work. It's good, prudent planning for the benefit of the country.

And I think stressing that helps separate Republicans from the negative aspects of the Trump presidency that are only going to cause us enormous harm down the road if we allow the Democrats - and you'll forgive me for saying so - but many in the media to try and portray Trump as equivalent to the Republican Party. That is a false equivalency that we need to start demonstrating.

INSKEEP: Isn't that what actually has been demonstrated in recent years, though, Ambassador? So many rank-and-file Republican voters are with the president, and a great many of them, according to polls, are with the president and claiming fraud without evidence.

BOLTON: Well, I think that's in part because many other Republican leaders are not telling them the facts. And I think until Republican leaders do that, a lot of people will be very disappointed when the so far completely baseless claims run up against reality in a court of law. I think that's where the rhetoric that we're seeing is going to disappear. But the longer that takes, ultimately, I think the more damage that will do to the party.

INSKEEP: How much damage, if at all, is the president doing to national security by firing the defense secretary and making other key personnel moves in national security agencies in the days since the election?

BOLTON: Well, there's absolutely no justification to firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who's done a great job, no excuse for firing many of his subordinates. And the idea that decapitating the national security leadership of the country is going to do anything other than satisfy Donald Trump's personal pique is unclear to me. And there's simply no reason that people need to accept it or feel any obligation to defend it.

INSKEEP: Do you think, Ambassador, that for all that's been revealed about the administration, that there will be more to be revealed about how troubling, in your view, the administration's conduct has been?

BOLTON: Well, it's certainly not going to get any better from Trump's perspective. I think history is going to write this administration up as an aberration. It will be an anomaly in American history given its performance.

INSKEEP: When you say an aberration, I suspect your hope is to go back to something closer to what you would regard as normal. Do you think that's possible, though? Do you think that America's standing in the world, which is your area of expertise, has permanently changed?

BOLTON: No, it has not. I think Trump has caused damage, but I think it can be repaired. In fact, I'm optimistic it can be repaired fairly quickly. That's not to say I'm going to come close to agreeing with (laughter) Biden administration policies. In many respects, I would not be surprised if by the 21 of January, the day after Biden's inauguration, I'll be criticizing his foreign policy. But I do think it will be a more normal American debate, and I think that is important for our standing in the world.

INSKEEP: Ambassador Bolton, thank you very much.

BOLTON: Well, thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: John Bolton, who was President Trump's national security adviser from 2018 to 2019. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.