John Bolton is playing a rather strange game. He clearly wants to testify against Donald Trump to the House impeachment inquiry, but he wants someone – any court, any judge – to order him to do it first. This has left House Democrats in the surreal position of having to play along with the antics of a guy like Bolton, a far-right villain if there ever was one.
When Bolton didn’t show up to testify today, he said that if he’s subpoenaed he’ll fight it in court, but if he’s not subpoenaed he’ll comply as soon as any judge rules that any witness should testify. House Democrats responded by not subpoenaing him, and that’s prompted a number of media pundits to characterize this as the Democrats having “caved” or given up on Bolton. Wrong. It’s the opposite.
Let’s say that House Democrats had responded to John Bolton’s no-show today by subpoenaing him on the spot. That would have sent a powerful message to everyone involved that… actually, no, it would have done no such thing. It would have simply pissed Bolton off. If the Democrats had subpoenaed Bolton today, it would have all but guaranteed that he won’t testify. That would have been a total fail for the Democrats, and yes, it would have meant that they were “caving.” Instead, by not subpoenaing Bolton, and letting him do it his way, the Democrats are increasing the odds that Bolton ends up testifying.
It’s not fair or just that House Democrats should have to do it this way. But as we keep seeing, winning in politics isn’t about what’s fair or just. It’s about, well, winning. You don’t win by righteously stomping your feet in a self defeating manner. John Bolton is a villain who wants to testify against Donald Trump because it’ll help him sell copies of his upcoming book. The Democrats can’t force him to testify within the timeframe they need him by. Their only chance at “winning” and getting Bolton’s testimony is to let him do it his way. For once, his interests line up with the interests of the Democrats – which means they’ll get their way, as long as they don’t do anything stupid like subpoenaing him.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report