Bolton Is Wrong; I Was There

6 mins read



Excerpts of John Bolton’s “tell all” memoir already show how he has distorted the truth, omitted important context, and contradicts critical facts in plain sight. I was there.

Let’s begin with John Bolton’s claim that he “cannot identify any significant Trump decision during my White House tenure that was not driven by reelection calculations.” Checking his notes would prove otherwise — and that either he is lazy or dishonest.  

Take Sept. 12, 2018. I watched White House Chief of Staff John Kelly sit at the head of the table, and National Security Advisor John Bolton at the foot, facing the painting of Teddy Roosevelt on horseback. Asserting himself as a person of wisdom and a careful note taker, Bolton undoubtably knew what was happening at this meeting of senior White House staff. We discussed how President Trump’s immigration policy would prioritize the economic contribution of immigrants. This feature of Canadian and Australian immigration systems would ultimately be adopted as part of the comprehensive immigration plan that the president would unveil the next spring in the White House Rose Garden.

Meeting participants also discussed what the president could do to push back against a burgeoning socialist movement in the United States. Foremost was to enhance the market orientation of America’s system in ways that benefit consumers. The health policies discussed in that meeting were also completed the next spring, with tens of billions of dollars of net benefits each year. 

Socialism should not, we said that day, thrive on suppression of free speech on college campuses. Within six months, this process resulted in the presidential executive order on higher education. These are all “significant Trump decisions” for the good of the country but nonetheless unnoticed by many voters and experts alike. Bolton has no excuse for not knowing.

Bolton also omits important context. He refers to the January 2020 interim trade deal with China as having “less to it than met the eye.” As explained in my book “You’re Hired!,” Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan faced very similar international trade challenges. In Reagan’s time, the focus was Japan, whereas China gets the attention today. In both cases, intellectual property rights were not being respected. As a veteran of the Reagan administration, Bolton should remember that President Reagan made no progress on intellectual property protections until after his first term. The fact that President Trump got any protections in year three puts him ahead of Reagan’s pace. 

Bolton recalls Trump discussing his “third term” with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The missing context is a frequent “moron or evil genius” riff that Trump uses to humorously point out the self-contradictions of his political opponents. The full riff is “They cannot decide whether I’m a moron or an evil genius. One moment they’ll say that someone like me wins only by luck, and the next moment announce that I’ve devised a way to become a three-term president.” Bolton undoubtably knew how often the president used this line, but washing away that context is a better way to sell books.

Bolton deploys the “chaos” cliché to describe the Trump White House. Other times he describes it as a kind of Groundhog Day (“over and over again, the same issues”). I have news for him: predictable and chaos are antonyms. In the economic realm (my area of expertise), President Trump’s team was historically productive because the White House was very predictable. We stayed ahead of events – wage growth, Medicare-for-all, prescription drug prices, automobile regulation, and much more – so easily that sometimes it felt like the economic news was moving in slow motion.

This book will likely prove to be a reservoir of score settling and self-promotion. Look elsewhere for accuracy, honesty, and reliability.

Casey B. Mulligan, professor of economics at the University of Chicago, served as chief economist of the White House Council of Economic Advisers from 2018 to 2019.





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