John Bolton stole Trump’s most potent weapon and gift wrapped it for Biden

Will Biden accept it?

Shankar Narayan
Jun 27 · 6 min read
Photo by Rob Laughter on Unsplash

There is something serene about the day India and the United States, the two largest democracies in the world, elect the head of their government. Hundreds of millions of people make their way to polling booths and exercise their fundamental rights to appoint the country’s leader. It’s the only day the electorate wields its collective power over helpless politicians.

The sheer size and scale of these elections make it nearly impossible for a single factor to disproportionately influence the outcome. But on rare occasions, politicians slip and make statements that pack enough propulsion to coalesce voters in the opposite direction.

Hillary Clinton deriding Trump supporters as ‘Basket of Deplorables’, James Comey drawing our attention to the FBI’s investigation of Clinton’s use of personal e-mail, and Mitt Romney saying that he can do nothing about 47% of the population are moments that triggered large segments of the population into action.

Hillary riled up Trump supporters and made sure that they polled their votes. James Comey pushed disillusioned voters further into darkness, while Mitt Romney assassinated his own image in the eyes of the whole country. These moments may not have sunk respective candidates with immediate effect, but they pushed turnarounds beyond reach.

2020: The Bolt-On Effect

John Bolton: Photo by DH on Flickr

With a single paragraph, John Robert Bolton, the former National Security Advisor made a complete mess of Donald Trump’s re-election strategy.

“Trump, stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming US presidential election [in 2020], alluding to China’s economic capability and pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win,” Mr. Bolton wrote. “He stressed the importance of farmers and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome.”

According to Mr. Bolton, the conversation happened between US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, in June 2019.

Under normal circumstances, Trump’s back and forth with Xi would have barely got the attention it deserves. But the world has drifted a long way from normal — We are in the middle of a pandemic, navigating our way to an election that has the potential to change the world order.

The world is simmering with anger

Not just world leaders, even people around the world remain extremely suspicious about the Chinese government.

  1. Japan has set aside more than $2 billion to help Japanse firms move production out of China.
  2. Australia has called for an international inquiry into the source and spread of Coronavirus. China promptly hit Australia with import restrictions.
  3. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “I believe the more transparent China is about the origin story of the virus, the better it is for everyone in the world in order to learn from it”.
  4. India lost 20 soldiers in a border skirmish with China. The Indian Foreign Ministry termed Chinese actions as “Complete Disregard Of All Mutually Agreed Norms By Chinese Forces.” There is a growing clamor inside the country to boycott products from China.

The list is long, but Trump sacrificed all the goodwill the United States had built over the years.

“At the start of Trump’s presidency, EU leaders harbored hopes that the combative president would team up with them to address an array of issues with China, particularly related to trade disputes, on which Beijing had long refused to give any ground.

Instead, Trump lumped the EU, and especially Germany, together with China as trade rivals who had taken advantage of the U.S., and even slapped punitive tariffs on EU steel and aluminum products that prompted swift retaliation from Brussels.”- David M. Herszenhorn, POLITICO Europe

Donald Trump lost a golden opportunity to emerge as the leader of the free world who forced China to mend its ways.

Why a re-election campaign with China as the focal point is a winning strategy?

Steve Bannon, the chief executive officer of Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, believes China will help Trump make his case to the American people. On June 12th, Steve Bannon told Asia Times that China will be a centerpiece of Trump’s 2020 strategy.

He said,

“This confrontation with the Chinese Communist Party, I believe, will be the single defining aspect of 2020.”

Steve Bannon’s assessment was spot on. A China-centric 2020 Presidential election campaign will help Trump.

Hate wins elections

Hate is a time tested strategy deployed by countless politicians around the world to win elections. By focussing US Voters' attention on China and stoking their anger, Donald Trump can avoid scrutiny for the loss of American lives, the economic fallout, and his administration’s response to the pandemic.

But unfortunately, a China-centric 2020 strategy will not be highly effective for Trump anymore. Bolton has armed Biden with an effective line of response, one that will hurt Trump immensely.

Sample this back and forth between Donald Trump and Joe Biden in a highly televised presidential debate

Donald Trump: China is bad. Real bad. I have no idea why there is a 19 after COVID-19. Nobody knows. It’s Wuhan. I call it Kung-Flu. China has killed hundreds of thousands of people. I am the only one who can stop China. Not Sleepy Joe.

Joe Biden: Let me tell you something. I keep thinking about the country even when I am sleeping. You only work for yourself. I ask the people of this great country: Who do you think Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi want to see as the next US President? Me or him. Yall know the answer. Why?

The conversation between Xi and Trump is extremely relatable to Trump’s behavior. Even the die-hard fans of Trump will agree that he is absolutely capable of asking Xi’s help to win the election. If Biden hits back by calling out Trump’s hard on China posture as a con job to fool the voters, it will stick and it will hurt.

Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. — Donald Trump publicly asked Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s emails in July 2016

Trump might be a narcissist, but he is not a fool. He understands the emotional reaction that will be triggered if he engages in a back and forth with Biden on China. He will avoid the topic as much as he possibly can.

Trump’s recent speech in Tulsa is a great example. He barely spoke about China and made no attempt to project a hardline image. China was not the central piece of Trump’s speech in Tulsa.

Steve Bannon and Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale will have to reboot their 2020 plans.

Screenshot from Asiatimes

Trump vs Biden: The Way Ahead

China is the only way Trump can divert blame. If Coronavirus cases surge, Trump will start testing the waters by attacking and pinning the blame on China and monitor Biden’s counter-arguments.

If Biden wants the top job, he needs to push Trump away from China. He must make sure that the US President is forced to accept responsibility for everything that’s happening in the country he was elected to lead.

Trump chose to turn a health crisis, a pandemic, into a political issue. He deserves to pay the price for the choices he made. Biden is the only person, who can make Trump pay.

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