Free Trade

Bolton: Trump's Tough-on-China Stance Was a Campaign Strategy, Not a Trade Policy

In a new book, former White House national security advisor John Bolton says Trump's trade deal negotiations with Chinese President Xi Jinping "commingled the personal and the national."


Rather than securing a better trade agreement for American farmers and blue-collar workers, the real goal of President Donald Trump's trade war with China was a second term in the White House. So says John Bolton, Trump's former national security advisor, in a Wall Street Journal excerpt from his forthcoming book, The Room Where It Happened.

Bolton writes that he would be "hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision" that wasn't driven by the president's re-election plans. But Bolton singles out Trump's fraught and sometimes frothy relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping as a particularly striking example of how Trump "commingled the personal and the national."

Bolton relates the details of a conversation Trump had with Xi by phone in June 2019, in which Trump stressed that "making a trade deal with China" would be "a big plus for him politically." In a separate conversation between the two men months later, Bolton writes, Trump "stressed the importance of farmers and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome." He adds that he would use the exact words uttered by Trump, "but the government's prepublication review process has decided otherwise."

Later in the summer, as China was cracking down on protesters in Hong Kong and as the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre approached, Bolton reportedly tried to persuade Trump to speak out about China's terrible human rights record. "Who cares about it? I'm trying to make a deal," was Trump's response, Bolton writes.

Bolton was fired from the White House in September of last year, so he wasn't around to witness the final stages of what became a limited "phase one" trade deal signed by Trump and Xi in December. But it seemed apparent to many observers—myself included—that the deal had more to do with domestic politics than it did with boosting international trade or easing tensions between the world's two biggest economies.

For starters, there was the promise that China would increase its purchases of American farm and industrial goods by $200 billion. Those targets were never realistic—and indeed, China is not even close to being on pace to hit them. But the key thing, politically, is that the U.S. agreed not to hold China accountable until 2021 at the earliest. In other words, not until after the 2020 presidential election.

That meant Trump could hit the rally circuit to boast about how he had stood up to China—as he quickly did, telling a gathering of Ohio farmers in January that they'd have to buy bigger tractors to keep up with the demand from China under the deal he'd inked.

In that regard, Bolton's descriptions of Trump's priorities seem to fit what we know perfectly. Rather than getting tough on China, Trump appears to care far more about the appearance of getting tough with China than actually accomplishing substantial policy.

That's been fairly obvious to anyone who cared to look. After all, how many economists and journalists have debunked Trump's claim that China is paying for the cost of his tariffs, or pointed out that trade deficits don't work the way Trump seems to think they do? But the tariffs were a useful way to appear to be doing something. From the outside, Trump's trade policy has looked like a haphazard, self-interested mess from the start; Bolton confirms that's how it looked inside the White House too.

"Trade matters were handled from day one in a completely chaotic way," Bolton writes in the Journal excerpt. "Over and over again, the same issues. Without resolution, or even worse, one outcome one day and a contrary outcome a few days later."

"The whole thing made my head hurt," Bolton concludes.

Mine too.

NEXT: The Federal Government Spent Nearly $3 Trillion on Coronavirus Relief. Oversight Has Been a Mess.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. BREAKING NEWS: politician’s policies motivated by desire for reelection.

    ALSO BREAKING NEWS: Orange Man Bad.

    1. I figured the first comment would be be from a Trump apologist.

      1. I figured the second would be from one of Jeff’s socks.

        1. I quit working at shoprite and now I make $65-85 per/h. How? I’m working online! My work didn’t exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new. VDs after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn’t be happier.

          Here’s what I do… Click here

    2. “Orange Man Bad”?

      “Orange Man Bad” as a summary from conservatives, of page after page after page, detail after detail, testimony upon testimony, of HOW and WHY Orange Man is a lying hypocritical narcissistic and corrupt, self-centered weasel, who is ruining the good reputation (for years if not decades) of the USA, internationally, shows the utter contempt that conservatives hold the rest of us in! “Here, dummy, I can summarize ALL of the encyclopedic knowledge that has been gathered concerning Der TrumpfenFuhrer, so that YOU (dumbshit) will NOT have to trouble your pretty little head, studying all that boring stuff! It just amounts to Orange Man Bad, end of story!”

      Don’t study medicine or boring medical texts… I will summarize it for you! “The human body is made of icky pus and smegma, slimy blood and mucus, and icky poop!”

      Law summary: “He or she who habeas the corpus, must take proper care of it.”

      Computers? Stop studying, you fool! “Learn to code; garbage in, garbage out; just be logical!”

      Electrical Hardware Engineering? “Don’t stick your diode in an anode! Sparks is as sparks does!”

      And then conservatives and other Trumptatorship worshippers and ignorance worshippers have the NERVE to say, “We need more SKILLED AND TALENTED immigrants and fewer ignorant ones coming into the USA!”!

      “Orange Man Bad”? See Orange Man Be bad?!? He BAD, all right! He SOOO BAD, He be GOOD! He be GREAT! He Make America Great Again!

      We KNOW He can Make America Great Again, because, as a bad-ass businessman, He Made Himself and His Family Great Again! He Pussy Grabber in Chief!

      “The Many Scandals of Donald Trump: A Cheat Sheet”
      He pussy-grab His creditors in 7 bankruptcies, His illegal sub-human workers ripped off of pay on His building projects, and His “students” in His fake Get-Rich-like-Me reality schools, and so on. So, He has a GREAT record of ripping others off! So SURELY He can rip off other nations, other ethnic groups, etc., in trade wars and border wars, for the benefit of ALL of us!!!
      All Hail to THE Pussy Grabber in Chief!!!

      Most of all, HAIL the Chief, for having revoked karma! What comes around, will no longer go around!!! The Donald has figured out that all of the un-Americans are SOOO stupid, that we can pussy-grab them all day, every day, and they will NEVER think of pussy-grabbing us right back!

      Orange Man Bad-Ass Pussy-Grabber all right!

      1. Fuck off, spaz.

        1. Sqrls sure loves copypasta.

    3. Except, apparently, the desire to bomb civilian collateral damage in response to a drone being shot down. And THAT is what set Bolton off

  2. BREAKING NEWS: Bolton suddenly credible at the point when he, who everyone previously considered a lying piece of shit, has a book to sell because he will never work again.

    1. Yeah, why the fuck didn’t Bolton cozy up to Russia like Trump and the rest of his toadies did?

      1. Excellent point.

        One of the reasons I’m so excited about a Biden Presidency is because he will confront Russia — with military force, if necessary — for its attack on our 2016 election.


        1. We can only hope Biden will nuke Russia!

    2. I don’t recall the media calling him a liar, just a war hawk and Trump sycophant. There the detector has determined what you said a lie.

      1. GOP Swift-Boats Bolton. Film at 11.

        1. Ok I’m an imbecile, there’s a link to the media calling Bolton a liar in this thread.

          I guess sucking Bolton’s dick like it cures cancer was a bad idea and we look like retards for doing it.

          1. Bolton supported the 2002 invasion of Iraq and still thinks it was a dandy idea. As undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs, Bolton was largely responsible for the deception used to justify the invasion of Iraq

                1. Stupid old shit, stuff your TDS up your ass so your head has some company.

                2. Lol, Jeff.
                  Are you arguing Ra’s exact point intentionally, or did you screw up your narrative?

                  1. Jeff must enjoy embarrassing himself.

  3. OMG, Binion is taking Bolton seriously?!


    1. Trump Defender Playbook:

      1) Ignore negative news about Trump
      2) When the news can no longer be ignored, attack the credibility of the source
      3) When #2 is not sufficient, claim the facts are fake
      4) If #3 fails, or at any other point, bring up something bad Obama or the Democrats did, and claim it was worse

      Ken is in stage #2 right now

      1. When your TDS has you arguing that John Bolton is credible.

        1. Bolton is an evil warmongering fuck, but do you honestly think he just made all that shit up and that there is no truth to it?

          1. Yes. The ‘conversations’ he reports have either all been debunked by other witnesses or were surprisingly and uniquely not the subject of leaks when every time Trump farted it was leaked to the press.

            Bolton is hawking a book and he knows that ignorant Progs will only buy it if it bashes Trump. So he embellished vanilla comments to sound outrageous. It’s Ukraine redux.

        2. What specifically do you find hard to believe?

          1. That John Bolton is credible.

            But please continue.

            1. ^what he said

            2. Like I said, Bolton sucks. With that said, when it comes to Bolton v Trump, Bolton is more credible. Trump has a looooooong history of outright lying, making shit up, not knowing basic facts, and generally being completely full of shit.

              1. I wouldn’t find a book from Trump about Bolton credible either.

                What I find very intwrating is that the people touting Bolton’s accusations think we can’t see that their real interest is in using Bolton’s previous membership on Trump’s team as a stick with which to leverage the crediblitly of said accusations.

                1. Funny how even people who don’t write books like Rex Tillerson say Trump is a fucking moron.

                  1. Seems like a great reason to treat Bolton like he’s credible.

              2. Chipper Morning Wood
                June.18.2020 at 4:57 pm
                Bolton is an evil warmongering fuck

                I would like to point out your own words.

                And then also point out that “they’re both scumbags and completely incredible” is an option you chose to forego in order to go to bat for John Bolton’s credibility.

          2. You can’t argue with Trumpettes because they’re all brainwashed. Just wait til November and savor the sweet taste of their tears. It will be a feast of legendary proportions in November when he loses.

            1. “You can’t argue with Trumpettes because they’re all brainwashed. Just wait til November and savor the sweet taste of their tears. It will be a feast of legendary proportions in November when he loses.”

              You can’t argue with TDS victims; their heads are too far up their asses.


      2. Oh, how could I forget:

        0) Claim the person criticizing Trump just has TDS

        1. When you act like John Bolton is credible, TDS might be the least of your issues.

          1. I see the talking points already went out.

            1. Fat Rush Limbaugh (Praise Be Unto Him) hands out the talking points on AM radio 12=3 every weekday.

            2. “John Bolton is not credible” is a “talking point”?

              1. When four or five commenters come back with exactly the same line at the same time, you know they all heard on the Rush Limbaugh show. Go ahead and deny it. Tell me you don’t listen to Rush every day.

                1. You think people need to listen to a radio show to see that John Bolton isn’t credible?

                  WOW. Just wow.

                2. you know they all heard on the Rush Limbaugh show. Go ahead and deny it. Tell me you don’t listen to Rush every day.

                  You forgot which sockpuppet you were using screech.

          2. Greg Arius : “When you act like John Bolton is credible…”

            Aside from Bolton’s generally lack of credibility, what specific allegation seems unlikely to you? I suspect your “Bolton’s uncredibile” shtick is the security blanket you wrap yourself in while sucking on your thumb.

            Because anyone who’s watched Trump these past four years recognizes him in Bolton’s descriptions. Apparently you find that recognition painful. Good. Why not face up to it honestly, as opposed to killing the messenger. It’s not Bolton’s fault Trump is a sleazy turd……

            1. Aside from Bolton’s generally lack of credibility,

              Why must I put this aside? It’s central to the discussion of his credibility.

              1. Question : Why can’t you say which of Bolton’s allegations are unlikely?

                Answer : Because none of them are, and you’re desperate for any excuse to ignore them (or at least pretend to).

                Advice : You really shouldn’t have to weasel so hard to support a politician, Greg. Trashing everyone who describes Trump as a loathsome buffoon has to be hard work, never-ending and without solace or break. Wouldn’t it be easier to worship someone who isn’t a selfish imbecile & bungling clown?

                1. So you gave up on having me ignore his admitted lack of crediblity and decided you could read minds instead.

                  Advice : You really shouldn’t have to weasel so hard to support a politician John Bolton

                2. Question : Why can’t you say which of Bolton’s allegations are unlikely?

                  Answer : Because the book isn’t out yet you Bolton slurping retard

                3. Asked by Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, whether the story excerpted in a forthcoming tell-all by President Trump’s former national security adviser was accurate, United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer denied the allegation.

                  “There was a meeting in on the outskirts of the G-20, in Osaka between the president and President Xi, and I was in that meeting,” Lighthizer said during a Senate hearing Wednesday. “Absolutely untrue. Never happened,” Lighthizer said of the allegation. “I was there. I’ve no recollection of that ever happening. I don’t believe it’s true. I don’t believe it ever happened.”

                  He continued: “I don’t want you to think I’m being deceptive. I said what meeting I was at, and this never happened at it. For sure.”


      3. Ar you seriously gonna defend the hill on which Bolton stands to declare he is not a buffoon but the guy that fired him is? Ken is not the one with the problem understanding reality.

      4. Everything every first term president does all of the time is motivated at least in part by the desire to be re elected. You’re arguing that Trump is somehow uniquely evil in that respect and relying on a tell all novel written by one of the most evil individuals on the planet. Really wanna die on that hill?

      5. You have to admit that it’s suspicious that the only people who seem to want to write a book about their insider’s account of Trump’s sins are the people who have a personal vendetta against him for being fired.

        1. Everything you say that’s bad about President Trump confirms the left’s preexisting bias. It may or may not be true, but it feels true, and that’s what’s really important to them.

      6. Chipper Morning Wood
        June.18.2020 at 4:53 pm

        “Trump Defender Playbook:”

        TDS victim playbook:
        Stick TDS up ass so head has company

        1. Do you recall the awesome enchanter named “Tim”, in “Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail”? The one who could “summon fire without flint or tinder”? Well, you remind me of Tim… You are an enchanter who can summon persuasion without facts or logic!

          So I discussed your awesome talents with some dear personal friends on the Reason staff… Accordingly…

          Reason staff has asked me to convey the following message to you:

          Hi Fantastically Talented Author:

          Obviously, you are a silver-tongued orator, and you also know how to translate your spectacular talents to the written word! We at Reason have need for writers like you, who have near-magical persuasive powers, without having to write at great, tedious length, or resorting to boring facts and citations.

          At Reason, we pay above-market-band salaries to permanent staff, or above-market-band per-word-based fees to freelancers, at your choice. To both permanent staff, and to free-lancers, we provide excellent health, dental, and vision benefits. We also provide FREE unlimited access to nubile young groupies, although we do firmly stipulate that persuasion, not coercion, MUST be applied when taking advantage of said nubile young groupies.

          Please send your resume, and another sample of your writings, along with your salary or fee demands, to .

          1. Fuck off, spaz.

  4. Bolton a giant waste of everyone’s time. mho.

    1. Change mho to everyone’s factual statement

  5. “The whole thing made my head hurt,” Bolton concludes.

    Just wait until you don’t make any money from the book.

    1. If it actually gets released it will be #1 and you fucking know it lol . People really can’t wait to hear about how shitty of a leader Trump is. I personally will just skim a review because I don’t have time for that, I have actual important books to read. It’s still fun to watch the Trumpettes squirm when their fap daddy gets called out.

      1. “…It’s still fun to watch the Trumpettes squirm when their fap daddy gets called out…”

        Far more fun to watch TDS victims make raging fucking assholes of themselves, raging fucking asshole.

      2. Breaking news: Old Fool borrows Cat in the Hat from local library in 1982; still working through it!

  6. Bolton’s claim is consistent with the Mexico-Canada trade deal.

    They took NAFTA and slapped a few union protecting country-of-origin rules on it and called it the “greatest trade deal in history”.

    Trump is all con and bullshit and only wants to get reelected.

    1. Trump is all con and bullshit

      Yes, but Biden is all that and a shill for ever more socialist policy. Bluster and lies is far better than a bullet in the head. And if you think people getting shot in the head is not the inevitable outcome of more socialism, you have not been paying attention.

      1. There is no way Biden tops Trump’s $4 trillion of socialism in this springs Trump Welfare Handout Plan.

        Clinton and Obama never came close to that much socialism. Obama’s ARRA was $800 billion and 1/3 of that was tax cuts.

        1. I seem to recall Nancy Pelosi was somehow involved in that and still wants more.

          1. So what? Trump asked for and signed the biggest bloated pig of a welfare handout bill in history – giving away more taxpayer money faster than ever thought possible.

            You’re taking that dumbass JesseAZ’s tactic – “BUT PELOSI TRICKED HIM! ITS ALL HER FAULT!”

            1. TRUMP MADE HER DO IT!!!



        2. Ah, so now pandemic relief is Trump’s fault, too. God. Is there anything that’s not Trump’s fault anymore?

      2. “Yes Trump is a turd, but he’s OUR turd!”

  7. At this point, I think John is more ‘free markets’ than ‘free minds’.
    Follow the money.

  8. Let me play the “What-About” card…

    EVERY president’s “tough” stance is for the campaign and not the policy. That Trump is no different is disappointing, but not surprising.

    1. Few of them actually attempt to seek out aid in hacking the American voting system though or trading $400 million to get their opponent’s son in trouble. Now it’s come out that he favors murder camps in China and folds to demands from the leader of Turkey and thinks Maduro is better for Venezuela than an apparent democratic candidate.

      1. “Favors murder camps in China.” Oh, that’s rich. And this is why credibility is so hard to find anymore. There are valid reasons to dislike Trump, but when you have to spout lies to support your hate, it takes away from the legitimate and makes you look completely uncredible.

        It’s amazing to me how this simple fact is lost on so many.

      2. “…trading $400 million to get their opponent’s son in trouble…”

        Fucking TDS victims are incapable of posting without lying.
        Hint, fucking raging asshole: Biden and his son got his son in trouble; Trump simply made it clear.

  9. The funny thing is, my liberal acquaintances have argued Trump’s trade policies on China are bigoted and that undoing globalism is bad. They also say “F— tencent” and complain about “everything” being made in China or being bought up by China.

  10. “Ten Takeaways from Bolton’s Book

    1. Concentration Camps…
    Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do.
    2. Trump really is China’s bitch.
    Trump’s conversations with Xi reflected not only the incoherence in his trade policy but also the confluence in Trump’s mind of his own political interests and U.S. national interests.
    3. Trump asked Xi to help him get re-elected.
    Asking a foreign leader to help him politically? Sound familiar?
    4. Trump really is Putin’s poodle.
    Putin is smart, tough. I think he sees that he’s not faced with a serious adversary here.
    6. Trump really is unfit.
    Trump is ‘unfit for office’ and lacks the ‘competence to carry out the job.'”

    Trump’s manifest ignorance baffles so many because his skill in building his cult of personality proves that he is not a congenital moron. What Trump is is an insect. In his famous quote Heinlein said that “…specialization is for insects.” Trump has specialized so completely in self-promotion that he has no other skills, nor even thoughts. Trump is an insect – a very poisonous insect.


















        AS THEY




        LOOK TOUGH






    2. “…What Trump is is an insect…”

      Fun to watch TDS victims make raging fucking assholes of themselves, raging fucking asshole.

  11. Trump cant be trusted. The guy has no core values beyond immediate self aggrandizement. Not saying liberals or NeoCons are necessarily a better alternative. But Trump is incompetent.

    1. Keep posting his name explaining how incompetent he is at getting people to talk about him.

  12. Bolton: Trump’s Tough-on-China Stance Was a Campaign Strategy, Not a Trade Policy

    Oh, the horror! A democratically elected president is doing what the people actually want! What is the world coming to!

    Obviously, we should leave decisions over life and death to authorities like Bolton, who know oh-so-much-better than mere voters and citizens! And when elections come around, the voters are supposed to pick one of the two interchangeable candidates promoted by the establishment who know so much better than dumb, ignorant voters!

    That’s how Bolton and his ilk actually think.

    1. A democratically elected president is doing what the people actually want he says!

      H.W. Bush: “Read my lips no new taxes.”
      Clinton: ‘Middle-class tax cuts’
      W: ‘No nation building’
      Obama: ‘Close Gitmo on day one’

      That’s not to say by any means that Trump kept every last one of his campaign promises but that saying Trump’s campaign rhetoric on China followed up by passing tarriffs on China is some manner of moral or political shortfall is a really odd aspersion to cast.

  13. If everything Binion wrote were 100% true (I know, a novel concept for Binion), then….so what. Assume all POTUS Trump’s actions vis a vis China were campaign pablum. Ok.

    So what. We’ll settle this in November. Next?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.