When Stephen Colbert hosted his old friend Dana Carvey as John Bolton two years ago, he probably never thought the real former national security adviser would ever be his guest. But Bolton has a book to sell, so there he was getting dressed down by The Late Show host Tuesday night.
Colbert was unimpressed by Bolton’s equivocations about his former boss, especially when the host asked him what Republicans are saying about Trump behind closed doors. “When the cameras are off, what’s the conservative opinion of Donald Trump?” he asked.
In “fairness to Trump,” Bolton said that many conservatives look at the comparison with Joe Biden, “as I did in 2016 with Hillary Clinton,” and say, “whatever we think of him, he’s not going to be a Democrat subject, especially these days, to the pressure of the left.”
That comment made Colbert laugh out loud. “No, he’s going to be subject to the pressure of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping!” he exclaimed in response, citing examples directly from Bolton’s book. “He’s a person who’s going to sell out the interests of the American people for his own re-election. What could be worse in Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton’s philosophy than betraying your own country to a hostile foreign leader, sir?!”
When Bolton stammered, “Trust me, I understand that point,” Colbert shot back, “But will you answer that question?”
Bolton explained that his view in 2016 was, “We at least have to try it out.” That’s why he voted for Trump in that election. “Having experienced 17 months of working with him, I can’t in good conscience do that again.” As Bolton has said previously, he confirmed that he would not be voting for Trump or Biden in the fall.
“I guess what’s exasperating is there is absolutely nothing that Donald Trump has done that is surprising to me,” Colbert told his guest. “My rule is, everything you think about Donald Trump is probably true. Because he’s not deep enough to get your socks wet in.” He actually made Bolton chuckle by saying, “That’s why when he ran casinos, the house lost.”
But Bolton’s smile quickly faded when Colbert asked, “How did you not know beforehand that he was just callow?”
“Because I couldn’t believe it was that bad,” Bolton replied. “And I know other people say they saw it from the beginning—”
At that moment, Colbert cut him off, laughing again as he asked, “But you’re an international negotiator, how could you be naive? You’ve dealt with the worst people in the world.”
“You’ve really insulted me now by calling me naive,” Bolton admitted. “I thought it was possible to work with somebody,” he said of Trump. “I thought surely they would want to learn about the complexities of arms control negotiations and that sort of thing.” Colbert let out one more uncontrollable laugh as Bolton added, “As I detail in the book, that turned out not to be true.”