Latest Bolton revelations are no game-changer

President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump fires intelligence community inspector general who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Trump organization has laid off over 1000 employees due to pandemic: report Trump invokes Defense Production Act to prevent export of surgical masks, gloves MORE entered the fall’s impeachment hearings as an unstoppable force. Despite siding with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinOvernight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Guidance on masks is coming MORE in opposition to U.S. intelligence, or facing sexual assault allegations from nearly 20 women, or getting caught lying or misleading the public more than 15,000 times since taking office, Trump has effectively inoculated himself from political destruction. Statements and actions — any one of which might have ended anyone else's career — seem only to have hardened his support.

Gallup’s final poll of 2019 encapsulates this narrative: 45 percent of respondents approved of his presidency, only one point below his all-time high. Meanwhile, only 51 percent disapproved the second-lowest mark since February 2017.

Ironically, this is all playing out amidst Republicans House members retiring in droves. Meanwhile, in the past three years, 13 state legislators have left the GOP; for context, only 17 state legislators left the GOP in the 21 years prior.


So despite becoming only the third impeached president, despite rarely reaching 50 percent approval in any poll, despite House Republicans losing a net of 50 seats since Trump’s election (247 in November 2016 to 197 today), and despite a record pace of defections—in addition to everything else that’s been thrown at him, or that he’s thrown at himself—Trump somehow entered last week’s Senate impeachment trial as emboldened as ever. 

Collaborating with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill On The Money: Economy sheds 701K jobs in March | Why unemployment checks could take weeks | Confusion surrounds 9B in small-business loans 13 things to know for today about coronavirus MORE (R-Ky.) and promising swift and brutal payback toward any GOP senator who crosses him, the president found himself in familiar territory: conceivably beleaguered, but in fact, empowered.

And now we have the 500th “Surely Trump can’t withstand this” revelation. On Sunday "The New York Times" reported on John BoltonJohn BoltonChina sees chance to expand global influence amid pandemic Trump ignores science at our peril Bolton defends decision to shutter NSC pandemic office MORE’s unpublished manuscript, in which the former National Security Advisor claims, among other things, that the president knowingly withheld Ukraine funding until the country initiated an investigation into the Bidens. 

Never mind that two months ago European Union Ambassador Gordon SondlandGordon SondlandWhite House withdraws nomination for Pentagon budget chief who questioned Ukraine aid hold Juan Williams: Will the GOP ever curb Trump? House wants documents on McEntee's security clearances MORE made the same assertion under oath. In today’s world, one party’s truth is another’s fiction. The only hope is to find more corroborators to bolster the case.

But we’ve watched this game before. How many times have Democrats believed they’ve cornered Trump — that they have enough evidence to pull enough Republicans to their side? U.S. Representative and House impeachment manager Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenHillicon Valley: FCC chief proposes 0M telehealth program | Twitter takes down posts promoting anti-malaria drugs for coronavirus| Whole Foods workers plan Tuesday strike Trump says election proposals in coronavirus stimulus bill would hurt Republican chances Democratic lawmakers demand government stop deporting unaccompanied children MORE (D-Calif.) calls the Bolton revelations a “game-changer." Really?


Zero House Republicans voted to impeach the President. That’s zero out of 197. It was a vote on the relatively low threshold of sending articles to the Senate, and no one broke ranks. The much higher threshold is removing him, which requires 20 of 53 Republican senators, assuming all 47 Democratic-aligned senators (including two independents) remain unified — a near-impossibility regardless of new revelations.

The release of Bolton’s unpublished claims might compel Senate testimony. But even if they do, this is no game-changer. This is not Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceSocial distancing works, but resistance prompts worries of growing crisis White House: Anyone 'in close proximity' to Trump or Pence will be tested for coronavirus Watch live: Coronavirus task force holds press briefing MORE or future formidable presidential candidate Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyCoronavirus sets off industry scramble for aid from Washington Why Klobuchar should be Biden's vice presidential pick Overnight Defense: 'Tens of thousands' of National Guard troops could be activated for coronavirus response | Hospital ships could take week to deploy | Trump says military to help Americans stuck in Peru MORE claiming high crimes or misdemeanors by a sitting president. This is yet one more Republican whom the president and his friends easily can redefine as a disgruntled former employee. 

In fact, Monday morning Trump did just this, tweeting that Bolton was lying and only trying to sell books.

Again, we have seen this play dozens of times with dozens of stalwart Republicans well-respected within their party. Each time, elected GOP officials rush to defend the president. And why not? Their political bread is buttered not by career diplomats like Bolton, but by a sitting president with a more than $100 million war chest.

So let’s slow down the “game-changer” talk. It will take a lot more than corroborated evidence to take down this president.

B.J. Rudell is associate director of Polis: Duke University’s Center for Politics, part of the Sanford School of Public Policy. In a career encompassing stints on Capitol Hill, on a presidential campaign, in a newsroom, in classrooms, and for a consulting firm, he has authored three books and has shared political insights across all media platforms, including for CNN and Fox News.