In two interviews on my radio program Monday, United States Senator Marco Rubio and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton both made clear that the “deal” negotiated by President Obama and his former and current Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry is an unacceptable appeasement of the nuclear ambitions of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
These interviews, in which each man delivers detailed critiques of the Obama-Clinton-Kerry Iran negotiations and looming agreement with the mullahs, underscore why national security hawks are eager for both men to join the 2016 field of would-be presidential nominees. Both men in fact strongly suggested that would be doing so.
I asked Rubio about the prospect of running against his friend and mentor, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. “I wouldn’t be running against Jeb Bush,” Rubio responded. “If I ran, I would run because I believe I’m the right person for the right time in our country’s history.”
And certainly, voters will make that decision, not me. My job is to go out and do the best I can if I decide to run for president to convince them that that’s me. But I have admiration for him, and continue to have personal affection for him as well. I think he’s going to be a very strong candidate. He’s going to raise a lot of money, has a lot of smart people around him on his team. He’ll be a very significant candidate. But I don’t, I wouldn’t view it as me running against Jeb Bush. I was considering, I would consider running whether he was in the race or not in the race. And so me, it really has nothing to do with him. It has to do about where I feel like I can best serve America at this time in America’s history, and at this time in my life and my career.
When I asked Rubio if he needed to decide soon, he responded: “Yeah. Yes, absolutely. I think that running for president, especially in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, those are states that expect to meet the candidates on multiple occasions and get the measure they take of the person.”
When I pressed Bolton on his plans, the most visible hawk in America responded:
You know, I’m not a politician. I’ve never run for office. I understand that that’s a disadvantage in contemporary America. We’re not in Howard Baker’s land of citizen legislators anymore. But I agree. Somebody’s got to do it. It may be that one or more elected politicians will step forward in the Republican Party. I don’t discount that prospect. I’m not driven here predominantly by personal ambition. I’m driven by a concern that our nation has slipped for six years in its consciousness of these threats, and that when reality intrudes again, as I’m afraid it will, it will be at a devastating cost if we’re not prepared.
Running for the presidency has changed. Now a single deep-pocketed supporter of a strong American defense or of the interests of our threatened allies in the Middle East like Israel and/or Jordan can dig deep into their wallets and launch and sustain a Bolton or Rubio campaign –or both– solely for the purpose of making sure that the coming RNC-sanctioned debates feature the voices of strong national security hawks, Reagan-like “peace through strength” candidates. I asked Bolton about the prospect of just such support:
HH: Now Ambassador Bolton, a lot of people have contributed to www.boltonpac.com over the years to keep your voice out there on these issues, which very few Republicans have been speaking about with the clarity that you have for the past six years. I am curious if anyone has come up alongside of you, a Sheldon Adelson, a Foster Friess, anyone who has said look, “John, if you enter into the presidential primaries in order to take this message of American strength in the gathering storm around Iran, we will support you as we supported, say, Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum in the last cycles.” Anyone offered an otherwise, you know, a deep pocket to get the Bolton message out there?
JB: Well, not in such expressed terms, but I am thinking very seriously about this. I have believed, as we’ve discussed now for several years, that national security absolutely has to be returned to the center of the national debate. Every day that Obama continues in office only highlights that. I certainly respect all of our fellow citizens who give priority to economic issues, social issues, and there are many out there competing. But I think everybody needs to think about this. If the country is not secure, is it not the case that every other issue is secondary? And that’s the point I’m trying to make. I’m looking for the right way to do that, whether it’s running for president, or some other way. I’m determined to get this issue of defending America right back ta the top of the priority list.
I then pressed Bolton on whether he had much such an “ask”:
HH: Have you looked any of the mega-donors in the eyes and said you guys have to do this? Someone’s got to get up there and make this case now, and I can do it?
JB: Well, I’ve certainly made the case that I’m prepared to do what’s necessary to get that message out there.
The presence of Rubio and Bolton on the stadium-seating platforms of this fall’s presidential debates would add two gifted communicators, deeply versed in the specifics of the Iran deal and the other enormous and serial failures of the Obama-Clinton-Kerry years. Each of the would-be GOP nominees in the vast field brings unique strengths and a core of dedicated supporters and volunteers as well as fund-raising networks of various sizes and depths. Bolton and Rubio especially bring foreign policy heft, and would guarantee that the issues so many conservatives feel have been slighted by the GOP in the post-W years of America’s Obama-led retest from the world would be pushed back to the center of the debates and thus the 2016 election.
It is not clear that the House and Senate GOP have yet figured out how crucial the issue of national defense as become. Also on yesterday’s show I engaged House GOP Whip Steve Scalise in a long conversation on the debate playing out around funding for the Department of Homeland Security. Scalise was pointed and emphatic on the responsibility of the Senate to return a bill to the House before DHS “shuts down” on February 27.
“We’re not blinking,” he stated, and that is all to the good. A collapse on this visible of an issue this early in the new Congress would telegraph to the president that the Congressional GOP is more afraid of the Manhattan-Beltway media elites than they are of their own grassroots supporters.
But Whip Scalise was less reassuring about the House GOP’s commitment to move quickly through the Budget process and to the appropriations bills to get to the business of rebuilding the nation’s defenses, hollowed out by the Obama years of forced starvation of critical weapons platforms and manpower, especially within the Navy and the Marine Corps, and especially with regard to the ship-building budget.
“[T]here is a strong urgency,” Scalise said with regards to the Pentagon’s funding “and this is something that our entire conference has had conversations about since sequestration, back when that process was set up.”
Urgency, perhaps, but no schedule. Such a detailed schedule needs to be set up and made public, and the Defense Department’s appropriations bill should be the first one to move from the House to the Senate as soon as the Budget Agreement is in place. That bill will also be the place to attach any necessary riders responding to an ill-executed “deal” with Iran, and to assure that the president neither closes Gitmo nor returns the base to Cuba. That appropriations bill is in fact the keystone to the GOP’s defense policy from now until the next presidential election. This is why I suggested to Scalise that Budget Chairmen Price and Enzi hammer out the top line number for the department of Defense now –in advance of the formal and entire Budget deal– and tell their Appropriations Committee defense counterparts what total number of dollars they will have to work with as a cap so that a Defense Department appropriations bill can reach the president’s desk in April.
Bolton and Rubio spelled out the need for major course corrections from the Obama-Clinton-Kerry years. Now the House and Senate GOP need to act to underscore that party-wide commitment to national security, and do so expeditiously.