Already reeling under severe criticism in the wake of the countrywide protests against the killing of African-American George Floyd and his handling of the corona pandemic, John Bolton’s newly published book ‘The Room Where it Happened’ has put President Trump in a tight spot. The publication has provided a fresh impetus to the feverish debate on the suitability of Donald Trump to hold the presidency in the second term.

The book portrays a president who is intellectually constrained to understand the responsibility of the high office he holds and who is accused of subjecting every key decision he takes to the imperative of his re-election. The assertions made in the book are damning, to say the least, and President Trump will find it extremely difficult to brush them under the carpet by using the broad rubric of fake media plotting against him.

Trump might call Bolton a ‘sick puppy’ and brand his book as ‘compilation of lies and made up of stories’ as he did in his tweet in response to the publication of the excerpts, but Bolton’s credentials of being a policy hawk with clear right-wing views and his ideological closeness with the Republicans make him a formidable challenge, if not a foe.

The fact that Bolton occupied the coveted position of a powerful national security adviser for almost eighteen months and witnessed developments not only as an observer but also the shaper of events and situations, adds meaning to his views and opinions.

It will be interesting to analyse the circumstances that led to his induction into the Trump team in March 2018. Bolton’s positions on the global issues that he articulated in his programme on Fox TV echoed those of Trump himself. Bolton shared ideological affinity with Trump and made no bones about his disdain for globalism and multilateralism.

Bolton’s bold and hawkish views on foreign policy issues not only found traction with key Republican leaders but also brought him closer to President Trump who saw in him an ally who could advance his cherished slogan of ‘Making America great again’.

Known as a ‘hardcore Americanist’ in the right-wing circles, Bolton exercised massive influence on Trump in shaping his foreign policy positions on North Korea and Iran. So much so that Trump’s scrapping of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, popularly known as Iran nuclear deal, concluded by the Obama Administration after painstaking multilateral efforts, is said to have the Bolton imprint.

Bolton advocated an Iran policy marked by maximum pressure, the imposition of stringent sanctions meant to strangulate the economy of the Islamic Republic, and even the threat of an attack. This policy marked a departure from Obama’s relatively less hawkish approach that sought to engage Iran and relax sanctions for reciprocal steps from Tehran.

Bolton was no ordinary top aide to Trump. He was his first go-to person for the understanding of complex issues and the search for new ideas to address them. Given his expanding influence in the White House, he appeared to overshadow the Secretary of State at one point in time.

The extent of Bolton’s oversized influence on his boss could be gauged from the fact that he freed him from the dependence on traditional bureaucracy in the State Department. Like Trump, he looked at global and multilateral alliances as deadwood that needed to be shed. He also considered democracy, human rights, and civil liberties as a nuisance and hence dispensable.

John Bolton’s definition of US national interest was too narrow and matter of fact to admit of any commitment to high-sounding ideals that have traditionally been part of the US policy toolkit, but considered anathema in Trump’s America.

Bolton’s assertions that Trump pleaded with Chinese President Xi to buy agricultural produce to brighten the prospects for his re-election in return for going soft on the latter’s violations of the human rights of Uighurs and other ethnic community constitute serious charges. However, it needs to be added here that Trump authorised sanctions against Chinese officials who he said were involved in incarceration and rights abuses. This measure elicited a strongly worded response from Beijing.

Trump appeared to be politically strong, if not invincible, a few months ago. His claims of improving the economy and creating millions of jobs along with his unconventional leadership style found traction with a huge segment of white Americans, who make up his core constituency. With the last major US military engagement set to be over soon in Afghanistan, Trump is on his way to fulfil his promise of ending the overseas military involvement.

Despite his divisive message and hawkish personality, what went to Trump’s favour was the absence of any coherent messaging from the Democratic Party, which has yet to pivot itself around an inspiring slogan that can resonate with the average Americans. The Democrats seem to have lost the momentum and dynamism that can be leveraged to challenge Trump and more importantly what he stands for.

However, Trump’s haphazard handling of the corona pandemic has resulted in depleting his political capital. His opponents got another opportunity to tear into him after a series of racial protests that rocked the US. A news poll conducted by CBS News showed that 49 percent of people disapproved of his handling of the George Floyd incident and subsequent protests, whereas 54 percent were unconvinced about his pandemic leadership.

Given this background, the stinging critique of Trump’s leadership by Bolton, a Republican insider, is going to hurt him deeply in an election year. The political commentators believe that Trump’s candidature is likely to cause a bigger defection in the Grand Old Party (GOP). Peter Jeffrey Kuznick, who is a professor at American University, termed the rejection of a sitting president by his own party members as ‘unprecedented’ in American history.

The unfolding political drama has put the Democrats into an advantageous position, which is reflected from a Reuters’ survey that sees Joe Biden winning the election with 48 percent rating compared to 35 percent of Trump, the lowest popularity ratio in seven months.

Once a close confidante, Bolton has sprung a surprise on his former boss.