Former U.S. national security adviser John Bolton told CNN that he...

Former U.S. national security adviser John Bolton told CNN that he won't be voting for Donald Trump or Joe Biden in November, and instead will write in Dick Cheney’s name, as he did in 2020. Credit: AP/ChiangYing-ying

Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at

There was a time when many of President Donald Trump’s top officials — including his Cabinet-level advisers on national and global security — thought the toughest decision they had to make was whether to tell you the truth about what they really thought about their boss.

Then, belatedly, but eventually, a surprising number of Trump’s most famous conservative Republican insiders finally found ways to share their tough truth concerns about the Trump they witnessed during times of crisis. And you discovered what they thought: Trump was inept. Self-absorbed. Easily manipulated. A danger to our democracy and global security.

But now those same conservative Republican Trump insiders are confronting the fact that they have an even-tougher decision they must make. And the also-tough choice about whether they dare tell you about it.

Namely: Will they actually vote for the Republican presidential nominee they have so warned you about? Or will they dare vote for the Democratic nominee they have long opposed — even though they support Joe Biden’s policies on Ukraine, Taiwan, Israel-Gaza? Or will they just waste their vote on a feel-good write-in or independent who they know cannot win?

And that brings us to a decision that we just heard about, that was made by Trump’s well-known former national security adviser, John Bolton.

You probably remember Bolton at a glance (he’s the semifamous Trump insider with the even more famous white mustache). He has also become famous for the criticisms of Trump that are in his book, “The Room Where It Happened,” and the elaborating statements he made about his conclusions during his TV book tour.

Bolton wrote that Trump was “stunningly uninformed” and told ABC’s Martha Raddatz: “I don’t think he’s fit for office.”

Bolton wrote that Trump was easily manipulated by foreign leaders, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin. “I think Putin thinks he can play (Trump) like a fiddle,” he added on ABC.

“Throughout my West Wing tenure,” Bolton wrote, “Trump wanted to do what he wanted to do, based on what he knew and what he saw as his own best personal interests. And in Ukraine, he seemed finally able to have it all.” Bolton wrote that Trump “said he wasn't in favor of sending (Ukraine) anything until all the Russia-investigation materials related to (Hillary) Clinton and Biden had been turned over.”

Last Wednesday, Bolton told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins that he won’t vote for his former boss in November — but he won’t be voting for Biden either. He said he wrote in Dick Cheney’s name in 2020 and added: “And I’ll vote for Dick Cheney again this November.”

And this leads us into the decision dilemma that the former Trump administration Republicans really must confront. It is not just about their personal vote. It is far more than that. These famous former Trump advisers are principled, experienced and respected by many Americans who are also lifelong Republican conservatives who live in the key swing states where the margins are close. Those voters look to these ex-Trump advisers for guidance.

If a second Trump presidency endangers our democracy and world security, as these ex-Trump advisers say, patriotic swing state Republican voters must not vote for Trump. But if they waste their votes on a hopeless choice — and don’t vote for Biden — they may enable a Trump victory in their key state. And if the ex-Trump officials those voters respect won’t vote for Biden, they probably won’t either.

That’s the ultimate dilemma Bolton and all his ex-Trump teammates really face. Their feel-good vote for a sure loser can enable a second presidency for the ex-boss they say may shatter our democracy and global security.

And they know Biden will at least support their own vital positions on global security, NATO, Ukraine, Taiwan, the Middle East and yes, a strong bipartisan U.S. border security program.

And that’s why the Biden White House ought to creatively encourage a new era of bipartisan global security. Biden should work with conservative global experts to create a nonpartisan geopolitical think tank within his White House — to assure that the wide range of global policy options are explored so a patriotic consensus can be achieved.

On Friday, Trump’s ex-national intelligence director Dan Coats, a longtime conservative Republican senator, issued a patriotic, even heroic, warning to Trump and House Republicans who seek to halt military aid to Ukraine. “This is not the time for political games,” Coats wrote in a New York Times commentary. “It is time for America to do what we all know is right.”

Beneath the gleaming white dome, history’s most famous echoes still reverberate. At the right spot, you may even hear the immortal words of Republican Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Arthur Vandenberg, who converted from isolationism to internationalism and worked with Harry Truman’s White House to enact the Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan and NATO at the onset of the Cold War:

“Partisan politics” must stop “at the water’s edge.”

What a concept.

Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at


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