A strange proximity-hypnosis seems to lurk within the walls of the White House. For several members of Donald Trump’s inner circle, it’s only after they get some distance from the building that this brain fog dispels and a conscience develops.
People such as Anthony Scaramucci, General James Mattis, and General John Kelly all seem only to remember that the president is dangerously incompetent after they’ve moved on from his administration. But no about-face from this White House has ever been as cravenly opportunistic as that of John Bolton, who leveraged information he withheld from the Democrats’ impeachment efforts into a $2 million book deal. Although some of the details in Bolton’s memoir are indeed juicy, the circumstances of how they surfaced negate any reasons to support the author’s book tour.
In other words, Stephen Colbert has nothing to gain from having Bolton on as his guest, other than a few more eyeballs on his show.
I can understand the temptation for a liberal-skewing talk show host to bring on the former national security adviser and Bush-era war hawk. If Colbert could coax out the golden gotcha soundbite that somehow eluded Bolton’s many other recent interviewers, it would create a viral moment that further burnished Colbert’s #resistance credentials and lay bare the ambassador’s hypocrisy before the world.
The only problem is that the world already knows Bolton is a hypocrite, and there is nothing new to be gained from giving him a platform to sell his book on late-night TV. It’s like Rush Limbaugh’s recent appearance on The Breakfast Club all over again, but at least Rush wasn’t trying to sell a book.
Colbert starts off by asking about the thickness of Bolton’s skin and assuring him that it “will make this interview easier.” He’s setting up that this will be a no-holds-barred, knock-down, drag-out brawl, when in truth it barely rises above the level of a pillow fight. With a distractingly lopsided mustache, Bolton refuses to ever concede the three most interesting points Colbert admirably ushers him toward: why Bolton didn’t believe Trump’s incompetence and corruption before joining his administration, why he saved his anecdotal evidence of those traits for a memoir instead of the impeachment hearings, and why he now refuses to vote for Trump’s opponent, Joe Biden.
A few times, in moments that will be circulated to show off Colbert’s tough interviewer side, the late-night host scoffs at Bolton’s reasoning and presses him to answer a question he tries to dodge. Overall, though, Bolton remains disconcertingly unflappable. This isn’t Frost/Nixon for him; it’s a frosty from Wendy’s. In the moment that has already made the rounds on Twitter, Colbert calls Bolton naive for not believing that Trump was as callow as his portrayal in the media suggested at the time.
But if Colbert believes he got anything but a slight ratings bump out of Bolton, he’s the one being naive.
Have a look at the interview, which is broken into four clips, below.