DES MOINES, Iowa — It's unclear whether John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, will mount a run for president in 2016.
But speaking on Saturday at the Iowa Freedom Summit — the state's first major cattle call for potential 2016 GOP presidential contenders — Bolton offered a preview of the foreign policy-centric campaign he would wage if he enters the race.
In 2011, Bolton positioned himself as a would-be national security presidential candidate but ultimately opted against a run. He's making similar noise this time, but he says his primary motivation is to put foreign policy at the center of the debate.
"I believe he is the first president, Republican or Democrat, since the attack on Pearl Harbor who does not wake up in the morning and think, 'What is the threat America faces today?'" Bolton said of President Obama in his speech at the summit.
Bolton's tenure at the U.N. from 2005 to 2006 was rocky. A frequent critic of the organization, he eventually left the post after the U.S. Senate failed to confirm him.
These days, Bolton, now a Fox News contributor and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is one of the most vocal advocates in the Republican Party for a muscular foreign policy.
He spoke on Saturday with The Texas Tribune about his political ambitions, his ties to Texas and the role the state will play in the 2016 GOP presidential race.
The following is an edited and condensed transcript of the interview.
TT: When are we going to know if you’re running for president?
Bolton: I haven’t really set a time frame on it yet.
TT: What do you plan to tell this crowd today?
Bolton: The political point I want to make is, I think it’s critical that we return national security issues to the center of the overall political debate, especially looking toward 2016. I think they’ve slipped off the radar screen, and I think that’s a big problem.
I plan to take on the conventional wisdom that the political operatives and — forgive me — the press tend to stick with that the people don’t care about foreign policy in their daily lives and aren’t concerned about it and so on and so forth. I don’t think that’s actually true.
Obviously, when we come to 2016, this is, I think, critical for the country to get national security back into the debate. It’s critical for the Republican Party because we are the party of national security. There’s hardly a national security wing of the Democratic Party anymore. So if we turn away from it, that’ll be a big problem.
TT: Do you see a major way Texas can influence the GOP primary beyond being the donor state?
Bolton: Really, there are three candidates from Texas, if you count Jeb Bush, given the family connections.
I think I have a good sense of this based on my own conversations that Texas hasn’t coalesced around one of the candidates. I think that probably is what gives any state the maximum leverage over the nomination process.
So until that happens, I think Texas will be influential, but won’t be directed obviously in support of one candidate.
TT: Are you worried that foreign policy will split your side of the party with the isolationist wing?
Bolton: I think that there are actually very few Republicans who hold neo-isolationist views. And that’s why I want a full debate, because I think that that’s a very small percentage.
I think it’s very important to have a broad debate. And certainly we’re going to need it in the nomination process to confront Hillary Clinton if she turns out to be the Democratic nominee.
TT: Do you have ties to Texas?
Bolton: Lots of people I’ve worked for are from Texas. … And I’m on the board of directors of a company called Diamond Offshore, which is headquartered in Houston. It’s an offshore oil drilling company.
TT: Do you think there would be trips to Texas or a role for Texas to play in your political operation?
Bolton: I’ve been to Texas several times already. I don’t publicize it, but I’ve talked to people to get advice from about running and that sort of thing. What I’ve discovered, I set up last cycle a PAC and a Super PAC to help Republican candidates in the House and Senate who believe in a strong national security policy, and we raised a little bit over $7.5 million in the 2014 cycle. And a number of those contributions came from people in Texas.
So I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in Texas. It’s a big state. It’s a major force in the Republican Party. You can tell that because there are two potential presidential candidates from Texas already.