Ron Brownstein does a great job at getting at the complex politics of the Bolton nomination.
Chafee, facing reelection next year, is feeling as squeezed as anyone. Conservatives grumble about all the times he’s defected from Bush’s agenda. Chafee voted against Bush’s tax cuts, the Iraq war and drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He’s indicated opposition to private Social Security accounts and the Republican threat to ban use of the filibuster to block judicial nominees. In November’s election, he even wrote in the name of Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, rather than vote for the president.
That record has opened Chafee to the threat of a primary challenge from the right. The most likely challenger, Stephen P. Laffey, an energetic young conservative serving as mayor of Cranston, R.I., hasn’t tipped his hand. But the conservative Club for Growth, which specializes in funding challenges against moderate Republicans, has already run ads against Chafee on Social Security and seems eager to mount a full-fledged insurrection. “My gut instinct is he would be vulnerable,” says David Keating, the group’s executive director.
Chafee’s problem is that any step he takes to bolster his GOP credentials exposes him to potential general election attacks in one of the nation’s most Democratic states. Democrats already are stockpiling examples of Chafee’s votes for Bush. If Chafee backs Bolton, it could provide Democrats a powerful symbol to argue that the senator, for all his independence, is helping to advance Bush’s agenda more than most people in Rhode Island prefer.
If the issues about John Bolton had only to do with his personally outrageous and unconstructive views of the United Nations itself, I think that this debate would be over. But the Republicans are being put in a position of confirming someone who has:
1. lied to them about his past behavior in trying to have intelligence agents fired
2. who has tried to actively sabotage official Bush administration policy towards North Korea
3. who may have misused highly classified NSA intercepts in his personal and reckless crusades, or in his personal rivalries with others in government
4. whose obsessions with intelligence resulted in his own office attempting to produce its own intelligence fact sheets as rival reports to State’s INR reports
Chafee, Hagel, Alexander, Murkowski, Lugar, Voinovich — all of them — don’t want to be in the position of confirming a guy who has engaged in such reckless behavior. The Bush administration needs to act as if it did not realize the full scope of issues regarding Mr. Bolton’s candidacy and pull back.
John Bolton is not someone that this nation can be proud of in the important role of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
As one very conservative commentator at the CSIS Think Tank Summit on foreign policy said to me this weekend, “The Bolton nomination shows that George Bush still has a sense of humor.” But even this commentator — who is close to the core of neoconservatives in D.C. said that Bush should play a different card in the U.N.
— Steve Clemons