John Bolton, ex-candidate.

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Bolton's Exit Shows Neocons' Lock on GOP

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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The winnowing continues. John Bolton, George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, announced today that he isn't running for president after all.

Up to this point he has talked about running, appeared at candidate forums and run about a million Twitter ads. But for a protest “candidate” such as Bolton, winning the nomination was never the point.  

His goal was, as he put it, “to make certain that foreign policy is critical to winning the nomination” -- in particular, his hawkish foreign policy.

With Republicans fully on board with the (dubious) notion that 2016 will be a “foreign policy election,” with Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush and Scott Walker and others in sync with neoconservative national-security priorities, and with the Paulite heresy (Ron or Rand versions) in retreat, Bolton may have thought his work was done. Indeed, it's easy to interpret today's announcement as more evidence that Rubio passed his audition in his foreign-policy address on Wednesday. 

There was also the debate logjam. Bolton was likely to have been excluded from any plausible forum of eight to 12 Republican candidates. If talking about his positions as an “expert” gets as much attention as talking about them as a “presidential candidate,” then what’s the point of going through the paperwork and other hassles involved? This calculation may matter to other small-niche candidates going forward, too.

By my count, three candidates -- Bolton, Mitt Romney and Rob Portman -- have at least for a while run for the 2016 GOP nomination, even though they decided they weren't running in 2016. Mike Pence of Indiana seems to be ready to join them, although he hasn’t made it official yet.

In other words, we’re on the path from a silly-large (20? 25?) candidate field back down to a manageable regular-large group of a dozen or even fewer. So who’s next to drop out? 

  1. It’s a subjective call, but those three did candidate-like things, while Paul Ryan, Rick Snyder and some others never really did.

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To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net