Hawk eyes 2016
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Former United Nations Ambassador John BoltonJohn BoltonSondland could provide more clues on Ukraine controversy Trump adviser lays out plans to slash national security staff Mulvaney helped organize controversial Ukraine meeting MORE hasn’t decided whether he’ll run for president in 2016 — but he says he’d like to debate Hillary Clinton.

“I’m not giving anything away here, but I’d love to debate Hillary Clinton one on one,” he told The Hill, detailing his frustration with the former secretary of State and Democratic front-runner during a Tuesday interview at his political action committee’s downtown Washington offices. 

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While there’s renewed talk of him running for the White House as foreign policy becomes an important topic on this year’s campaign trail, Bolton would rather discuss his efforts to “elevate national security in the national debate” through his PAC and super-PAwC — a timely endeavor making him a player in 2014. 

Th groups together have raised more than $6.5 million as of the last reporting period, and they plan to spend all of it on the midterm elections. As for 2016, he’s focused on the current elections and claims he has no timeline for making a decision on a presidential campaign.

“I don’t know when, and I don’t know what the factors will be [in making the decision]. I’m focused on November, and I’ll just have to think about it when it’s over,” he said.

But it’s clear the presidential race — and the likely skepticism he’d meet despite re-emerging as a respected voice within the GOP on foreign policy over the past year — is on his mind.

Bolton is traveling to Florida, Arkansas, Illinois and New Hampshire to campaign for candidates over the next two weeks.

And during his interview with The Hill, Bolton mentioned multiple times, unprompted, how the work of running a PAC has given him an inside look at how to run a campaign.

“I’ve certainly learned a lot about how campaigns over the years, and candidates, have wasted money in politics,” said Bolton. “So, I’m trying to spend it in an effective fashion.”

He said the political operation has “involved me in a lot of nitty-gritty that I think people who are running for office normally don’t get involved in,” essentially “how this business of running a campaign normally gets conducted.”

If he runs, Bolton would be the rare presidential contender to never have been elected to public office. It’s even rarer that such candidates go on to win.

He also took sharp jabs at two of his biggest potential rivals: Clinton, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Bolton went to Yale Law School a year behind Hillary and Bill Clinton, so, he jokes, “I’ve been burdened with them 20 years longer than the rest of the country.”

But he pledges now: “It’ll be a cold day in hell before I accept her getting the presidential nomination.

“Despite her efforts to distance herself from the administration, she would be Obama’s third term. She really hasn’t distanced herself from his foreign policy,” Bolton said of Clinton.

And he’s not convinced by Paul’s sudden hawkish turn on foreign policy. The Kentucky senator, known as the leader of the growing libertarian strain within the GOP, recently departed from his typically noninterventionist stance on international conflicts to back military strikes on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Bolton suggested the shift in the party toward a more hawkish foreign policy might ultimately prevent Paul from running.

“I think his ambitions are in conflict with his basic beliefs. And where he’ll be on any given day, obviously only he knows. But I think the fact he’s been shifting shows the politician’s instinct, that his troops may be moving in a different direction than he’d like to go,” Bolton said of Paul. “And so, where he comes out, or in fact whether he even runs now, I think is an open question.”  

But Bolton also suggested he’s open to embracing Paul, if his foreign policy conversion is genuine.

“I believe in redemption, and there’s room for everybody if they see the light,” he said.

He said he “welcome[d] the fact” that the rest of the 2016 Republican presidential field has shown a renewed focus on foreign policy and national security in recent weeks. He said he found Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R) Monday speech on the issue, as well as addresses by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in recent weeks, heartening.

“I’ve talked to a lot of these folks, and I’m happy to talk to them at any point — I want people to dive into this and have a chance to gain more experience in it,” he added. 

Bolton launched his political apparatus last year with the aim of making foreign policy and national security issues in the midterms. He acknowledges that recent news events, more than his PAC efforts, have brought those issues to the forefront of the national debate.

He has kept the focus of his PAC on foreign policy and has spent millions largely on digital ad campaigns, which Bolton sees as a wiser use of the money than costly TV campaigns. On Tuesday, the super-PAC launched a $5 million digital advertising campaign across New Hampshire, Arkansas and North Carolina.

He said he’s “optimistic” on Republicans’ chances this fall. He said foreign policy could be a deciding issue in Colorado and Iowa, two competitive Senate races, where Republicans have a shot at picking up seats. 

“I’m pretty optimistic now, but I think there are a lot of idiosyncratic factors at work. I think the prospect of something happening on the international scene is very real, and we don’t know what the president’s reaction to it would be,” he said.

But the president’s foreign policy, as it’s unfolded during his two terms, has been “weak and feckless,” and that’s why Obama is having such a drag on Democrats this year, Bolton said.

“One reason Democratic candidates are fleeing from the Obama administration is the relationship between leadership as a general issue and leadership in foreign policy. And people see this as a badly failed presidency with a weak and feckless leader, when it comes to foreign policy, and they make the perfectly sensible jump from that to domestic policy too,” he said.

In particular, Bolton said, Obama’s strategy to tackle ISIS “is manifestly failing already,” and “ISIS has already adapted to it.”

“Instead of pursuing gradual escalation in order to prevent ISIS from consolidating its control over the territory it holds, we should’ve used the maximum force available to us.”

But he says, even if Americans are paying attention to national security now, his efforts won’t end in November.

“It’s not enough to say, Mr. X is now talking about foreign policy — problem solved. That doesn’t do it. And it doesn’t do it to have several Mr. X’s talking about foreign policy,” Bolton said. “It’s about restoring national security to where it should be on the priority list. So I see this as a long-term priority.”