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Dark Horse John Bolton Could Make Impact in 2012 GOP Race

September 2, 2010 - 6:00pm

An unexpected figure has recently emerged as a possible candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

John Bolton, whom former President George W. Bush appointed as ambassador to the United Nations for 16 months -- despite never winning confirmation in the U.S. Senate -- has raised the possibility that he would be open to a presidential campaign to highlight foreign-policy issues.

Bolton would be a heavy underdog if he enters the race, against a pack ofhigh-profile candidates already looking to run -- including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.

While well-respected by Beltway Republicans, Bolton has never held elective office, though he did serve in the Justice and State departments under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, eventually rising to serve as assistant secretary of state for International Organization Affairs. He served as under secretary for Arms Control and International Security in George W. Bushs first term, before being named to the U.N. post.

Very few politicians have risen to the White House without winning elective office -- and most of those have been successful military leaders like Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight Eisenhower. William Howard Taft never won an election before winning the White House in 1908, having risen through the ranks of Ohio Republicans via appointed offices before ending up as governor general of the Philippines and secretary of war under Theodore Roosevelt.

While he ran a dark-horse campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 1920, the first campaign Herbert Hoover ever won was in 1928 when he was elected president. Even presidents generally considered to have risen up the appointed ladder -- John Quincy Adams, James Buchanan, the first George Bush -- won congressional elections.

Bolton clearly intends to focus on international issues if he decides to run. A sharp critic of the U.N. and an early advocate for using military force to remove Saddam Hussein from power, Boltons strong views and undiplomatic statements have often caused friction from Democrats and even some of his fellow Republicans.

This could help undermine Boltons chances to make an impact. But 2012 is not shaping up like 1940 when Wendell Willkie pulled off one of the great upsets in American history by winning the Republican presidential nomination by focusing on international issues. While foreign policy was front and center for most of the last decade, Americans now are more concerned with the sluggish economy. Even in his Oval Office address on Tuesday declaring the end of combat operations in Iraq, President Barack Obama was forced to touch on economic matters.

Clearly Bolton has his work cut out for him if he decides to run. But Bolton has an opportunity to make an impact. Foreign policy is not a particularly strong area for most of the field -- including Romney, Huckabee, Palin and Pawlenty. While Gingrich has more of a background than those other candidates, he does not have Boltons expertise, while Ron Paul would stand against Bolton on a number of issues.

There have been some Republican presidential candidates in recent years who impacted the races even without ever holding elective office. Bolton does not have the charisma or the passion of Pat Buchanan or Alan Keyes. He does not have the millions that Steve Forbes brought to the table in 1996 and 2000. But Bolton is intelligent and an expert on policy -- two things that helped out his fellow Beltway-based conservative activist Gary Bauerwhen he sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2000. Bauers expertise on social issues and strong debate performances helped him to last longer in the presidential campaign than a number of better-known candidates -- including John Kasich, Orrin Hatch, Elizabeth Dole, Lamar Alexander and Dan Quayle -- and highlight his conservative positions on social and economic issues.

If Bolton, who is now a senior fellow with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, runs and is able to raise enough money to survive into Iowa and New Hampshire, he will have the opportunity to pull most of the Republican candidates his way on international issues. Based on his comments to the media as he mulls over launching a bid, Bolton seems aware of this.

While he has virtually no chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination, a Bolton 2012 presidential bid actually makes a lot of sense if he wants to ensure that the Republicans back a vigilant foreign policy even as they focus on Americas economy.

Reach Kevin Derby at or at (850) 727-0859.

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