Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
Only a few weeks ago, pundits and political observers roundly proclaimed that Donald Trump, the reality-show tycoon who's mounted a takeover of the GOP, would flame out, fade, implode, or whatever. Jeb Bush's campaign aides were telling journalists that they had no concerns about Trump threatening a third Bush regime. "Trump is, frankly, other people's problem," said Michael Murphy, the chief strategist for Bush's super-PAC. It's becoming clearer, though, that Trump, still dominating the polls and the headlines as the Republican front-runner, could well pose an existential threat to the Grand Old Party (or at least its establishment, including the Bush campaign). But the fundamental problem for the Rs is not Trump; it's Republican voters.
Trump is a brash and arrogant celebrity who is well skilled in pushing buttons, belittling foes, uttering outrageous remarks, causing a ruckus, and drawing attention to one thing: himself. He's a smart marketer and a brilliant self-promoter. His name recognition is over 100 percent. He cooked up a wonderful ready-for-swag tagline: "Make America Great Again." He's incredible. He's yooge. But none of this would matter if there was no demand for his bombastic, anger-fueled, anti-immigrant populism—that is, if Republican voters did not crave a leader who equates undocumented immigrants with rapists and who claims that everyone else in political life is a nincompoop selling out the US of A to the Chinese, the Mexicans, and just about every other government.
Donald Trump, the celebrity tycoon and front-runner in the Republican 2016 race, doesn't hold back when he criticizes the Bush-Cheney crowd for the Iraq War. Over the years, he has called the Iraq invasion a "big mistake" and a "mess," and he has insisted he never would have launched that war. Though the war remains unpopular, Trump's critique does put him at odds with the Republican establishment and GOP voters who supported the invasion. So as he has soared to the top of the polls, Trump has deftly devised a way of discussing the Iraq War that includes Obama-bashing. The problem (well, it would be a problem for a conventional politician): Trump is contradicted by his own words.
The politerati are getting a slight break from Trumpalooza these days, thanks to the Biden Bump. The veep has been actively discussing a possible presidential run with Democratic donors and strategists as he moves toward a final decision, and political handicappers have upped the odds that Biden, still coping with the recent death of his 46-year-old son Beau, will enter the fray. This has led to a torrent of speculation about what Biden will do and what a last-minute leap might mean for the 2016 race. Could it hurt the once-inevitable-but-now-email-burdened Hillary Clinton by providing Nervous-Nellie Democrats with an alternative? Could it help Clinton by offering her a more establishment-oriented sparring partner to vanquish—which would yield a positive narrative for her campaign?
The other day, Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent seeking the Democratic nomination who has drawn thousands to rallies and boomed in recent polls, was asked how a Biden bid would affect the contest. He characteristically pooh-poohed the question. "Politics is not a soap opera," he said. "What impact it will have on the race, I honestly don’t know. I mean, I wish I could tell you, but I don’t. Will it help or hurt me? Will it help or hurt Hillary Clinton? I just don’t know."
Yet there are several reasons why a Biden run would be good for Sanders.
When Donald Trump, the reality show tycoon turned GOP front-runner, appeared on Meet the Press this past Sunday, host Chuck Todd asked him, "Who do you talk to for military advice right now?" At first, Trump had no direct answer. He replied, "Well, I watch the shows. I mean, I really see a lot of great—you know, when you watch your show and all of the other shows and you have the generals and you have certain people that you like." Todd pressed him: "But is there a go-to for you?" Trump said he had two or three "go-to" advisers. He named John Bolton, one of the most hawkish neoconservatives, and retired Army Col. Jack Jacobs, who is a military analyst for MSNBC and NBC News. "Col. Jack Jacobs is a good guy," Trump said. "And I see him on occasion."
There's just one problem with Trump citing Jacobs as a national security adviser: Jacobs says he has never talked to Trump about military policy.
"He may have said the first person who came to mind," Jacobs tells Mother Jones. "I know him. But I'm not a consultant. I'm not certain if he has a national security group of people. I don't know if he does or if he doesn't. If he does, I'm not one of them."
Jacobs, who received a Medal of Honor (and two Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts) for his service in Vietnam, notes that he has attended numerous charity events where Trump was present. "I've seen him at a number of functions," he says. But Jacobs adds that he has had no discussions with Trump about national security affairs—at those events or anywhere else.
Jacobs says he assumes Trump has watched his appearances on television. But does Jacobs see his on-air comments reflected in what Trump has been saying as a candidate? "I talk about a wide variety of things on television," Jacobs remarks. "Who knows what anybody absorbs? But I'm delighted to hear that he's a fan of MSNBC."
The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to an inquiry about why Trump cited Jacobs as a military policy adviser.
Donald Trump regularly boasts that he was opposed to the Iraq War. On Meet the Press this past weekend, he said, "And, as you know, for years I've been saying, 'Don't go into Iraq.' They went into Iraq. They destabilized the Middle East. It was a big mistake." In July, he reportedly told a conservative group in Hollywood that instead of invading Iraq the United States "should have invaded Mexico." And he's been consistent on this point for years. In a 2004 interview with Esquire, Trump dumped on the Bush-Cheney crowd for initiating a dumb war:
Look at the war in Iraq and the mess that we're in. I would never have handled it that way. Does anybody really believe that Iraq is going to be a wonderful democracy where people are going to run down to the voting box and gently put in their ballot and the winner is happily going to step up to lead the county? C'mon. Two minutes after we leave, there's going to be a revolution, and the meanest, toughest, smartest, most vicious guy will take over. And he'll have weapons of mass destruction, which Saddam didn't have. What was the purpose of this whole thing? Hundreds and hundreds of young people killed. And what about the people coming back with no arms and legs? Not to mention the other side. All those Iraqi kids who've been blown to pieces. And it turns out that all of the reasons for the war were blatantly wrong. All this for nothing!
So here's the puzzle: Why would Trump pick one of the lead cheerleaders for the Iraq War to be a top foreign policy adviser?
In that Meet the Press interview, host Chuck Todd asked Trump to identify his "go-to" experts for national security matters. Trump said he "probably" had two or three. Todd pressed the tycoon for names, and the first one Trump mentioned was John Bolton, the George W. Bush administration's ambassador to the United Nations. "He's, you know, a tough cookie, knows what he's talking about," Trump said. (He also named retired Col. Jack Jacobs, an MSNBC military analyst.)
Bolton has long been one of the most hawkish of all the neoconservative hawks. He was part of the Bush-Cheney crew that claimed Saddam Hussein had amassed weapons of mass destruction and that war was the only option. As a top State Department official prior to the 2003 Iraq invasion, Bolton pushed the false claims that Iraq had obtained aluminum tubes and uranium for its supposed nuclear weapons program. He was also a supporter of a conspiracy theorist named Laurie Mylroie who contended that Saddam was behind the 9/11 attacks. Before Bush launched the Iraq War, Bolton predicted that "the American role actually will be fairly minimal." (In 1997, he was one of several conservatives who wrote to President Bill Clinton and urged him to attack Saddam.)
Not surprisingly, Bolton has stuck to the position that the Iraq invasion was the right move. In May, he said, "I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct."
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for an explanation of Trump's reliance on Bolton's advice.
Bolton, who flirted with the notion of running for president in 2016, has a long history of extreme positions. In 2009, he noted that the only way to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons would be an Israeli nuclear strike on Iran—an option he seemed to endorse. In 2012, he backed then-Rep. Michele Bachmann's call for an investigation of members of Congress supposedly connected to a Muslim Brotherhood plot to infiltrate the US government. This past March, Bolton called for the United States and/or Israel to bomb Iran's nuclear infrastructure.
Bolton is not in an exclusive relationship with Trump. He has also advised other GOP 2016ers, including Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Bobby Jindal. But Trump's reliance on Bolton is curious, for Bolton was neck-deep using false assertions to promote a war that Trump himself says was all for "nothing." Bolton ought to have received a "you're fired" pink slip from Trump. Instead, Trump solicits his views.
Would Trump have retained an apprentice who screwed up this badly?