Latest Bolton revelations are no game-changer

President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Coronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Ohio governor tests negative in second coronavirus test MORE entered the fall’s impeachment hearings as an unstoppable force. Despite siding with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinThe tragedy of Trump's foreign policy Steele's dossier: 'Clown show' or the greatest Russian coup? US 'deeply troubled' by escalating conflict in Libya 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 McConnellCoronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks Overnight Health Care: Ohio governor tests positive for COVID-19 ahead of Trump's visit | US shows signs of coronavirus peak, but difficult days lie ahead | Trump: COVID-19 vaccine may be ready 'right around' Election Day 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 BoltonEx-Trump adviser, impeachment witness Fiona Hill gets book deal Hannity's first book in 10 years debuts at No. 1 on Amazon Congress has a shot at correcting Trump's central mistake on cybersecurity 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 SondlandGOP chairman vows to protect whistleblowers following Vindman retirement over 'bullying' Top Democrat slams Trump's new EU envoy: Not 'a political donor's part-time job' Trump names new EU envoy, filling post left vacant by impeachment witness Sondland 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 LofgrenDemocrats accuse Barr of helping Trump distract from coronavirus State and local officials beg Congress to send more election funds ahead of November FEC commissioner resigns, leaving agency without a quorum again 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 PencePence: Chief Justice Roberts 'has been a disappointment to conservatives' Students at school system Pence called 'forefront' of reopening now in quarantine Presidential debates demonstrate who has what it takes MORE or future formidable presidential candidate Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyTennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans The 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence On The Trail: The first signs of a post-Trump GOP 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.