WASHINGTON ― The revelation that Donald Trump begged China’s dictator for help winning reelection could prove fatal to what the president’s campaign had hoped would be one of its strongest themes: that Democrat Joe Biden is soft on China.
For over a year, Trump’s campaign, his supporters and the president personally have claimed that the former vice president who is now the presumptive Democratic nominee would be unable to take a tough stance against China and Xi Jinping.
“He’s a weak man. He’s an ineffective man. President Xi laughs at guys like that,” Trump said of Biden last July.
Trump’s “official” super PAC, America First Action, even created a webpage and a series of ads dedicated to “Beijing Biden,” which try to portray him as confused and overly supportive of China.
All of that, though, was before Trump’s previous national security adviser detailed the president’s lavish praise of Xi ― “the greatest leader in Chinese history” ― and his June 2019 request for help in his coming reelection by agreeing to purchase large amounts of American agricultural products.
“Trump then, stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming U.S. presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability and pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win,” according to an excerpt from John Bolton’s soon-to-be-released book, “The Room Where it Happened: A White House Memoir,” that appeared in The Wall Street Journal.
Trump, who in early 2018 had spoken admiringly of the way Xi had essentially made himself president for life, told Xi that Americans similarly wanted Trump to stay on beyond two four-year terms. “Trump replied that people were saying that the two-term constitutional limit on presidents should be repealed for him,” Bolton wrote.
John Weaver, a Republican consultant who worked on the presidential campaigns of John McCain and John Kasich and who now works with the anti-Trump organization The Lincoln Project, said Bolton’s book pretty much ends Trump’s ability to hit Biden on China.
“Any attacks are now laughable,” he said. “Trump is Xi’s house poodle.”
Neither Trump’s campaign nor his super PAC would respond to HuffPost’s queries about where Bolton’s revelations leave the “Beijing Biden” efforts.
One former Trump campaign aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Bolton’s description of the exchange with Xi could actually work to Trump’s advantage with farmers who have been financially devastated by Trump’s trade war because they will see that he is trying to help them. “I think the farmers will like that,” the aide said. “I don’t think it’s pretty. But nothing about what Trump says in private is pretty.”
For Biden’s campaign and outside supporters, though, the Bolton material is just more proof that it is Trump, not Biden, who is unable to deal with China, particularly on the coronavirus pandemic, which was first recorded in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
“This whole time, the American people have asked why on earth Trump gave President Xi a pass as he disregarded warning after warning from his own intelligence advisers, public health experts, and from Joe Biden that we couldn’t take Xi’s word,” said campaign spokesman Andrew Bates. “Now we know why Trump looked the other way.”
“We already knew Trump’s smears against Vice President Biden on China were baseless projections of his own failures,” added Jeb Fain, spokesman for the Democratic super PAC American Bridge that aired ads attacking Trump in response to America First’s ads. “Now we know the full extent of Trump’s betrayal of America’s values and interests.”
That Trump would ask Xi for help is not surprising. He did so publicly on the South Lawn of the White House last autumn. “Likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine,” he said.
He had just finished telling reporters that the new president of Ukraine should investigate Biden, essentially confirming the main thrust of a newly started House probe into his efforts to tie $391 million in congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine’s help with a politically motivated investigation.
Trump wound up being impeached for that, as well as subsequent efforts to prevent Congress from learning details about it.
All Senate Republicans except for Utah’s Mitt Romney, however, chose not to remove Trump from office for that act. Some argued that while it was wrong, it was not sufficient to force him from the presidency, while others said that Trump was fully within his rights to use his office in that manner.