Former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton's SuperPAC is focusing on down-ballot congressional races this election cycle, as they have recently announced that they will engage in an independent expenditure campaign for Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Kelly Ayotte (R-NC) and Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV); the latter is running for an open Senate seat. The SuperPAC has pledged $1 million for each of these three campaigns.
Here is The Daily Wire's conversation with Bolton:
What prompted you to start getting involved in these down-ballot congressional races?
Well, we started in late 2013 when I had come to the conclusion that for President Obama national security just wasn't a priority. He was focused on what he said in 2008 he was going to do, which was his words, fundamentally transform the country, so...and I also felt Republicans in the House and Senate weren't as effective as they should have been on making it clear that international problems don't get easier to resolve by ignoring them, they get more difficult. So anyway, back in 2013 or late 2013 I formed a PAC and a SuperPAC to help in the House and the Senate get people elected who understood that a strong American presence in the world was critical to maintaining the way of life we have here at home, and in the 2014 cycle we raised a little bit over $7.5 million. Through the SuperPAC, we did three big independent expenditure campaigns for Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Thom Tillis in North Carolina and Scott Brown up in New Hampshire...after the 2014 election, I also set up a foundation of 501(c)4 to be able to do issue-oriented things as well, and so we've been raising money now among the three committees, each operating in its own way, we've raised a little bit over $10.5 million, so we're way ahead of where we ended up in 2014 and the pace of the last two months of fundraising, if that's an example we should be substantially higher than $10.5 million here by the end of this cycle.
Right now, we're doing independent expenditures in three races: Joe Heck in Nevada, Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire; we just announced this week Richard Burr in North Carolina. And as of 2014, we've picked races where we thought the combination of the candidates who were running and the nature of the states in question were well suited to make national security arguments. We thought our efforts should be focused, not spread all around 10 or 15 races, so we picked three last time, we're doing three so far this time. We'd like to do one more, maybe two more, but certainly not more than that, we may end up just with three so we can do an effective job, and the other, I guess distinguishing feature, is that we do almost no radio or TV advertising. We do almost everything through digital communication, social media, we think that's the wave of the future. We think it's far more cost-effective than broadcast ads and in any event, we want to catch up with Barack Obama and the Democrats. So basically, that's we're up to.
What are the key foreign policy issues and arguments you're focusing on in these key races?
Well, the first is the qualifications of the people running, and in all three cases, Ayotte is an incumbent senator, Heck's a member of the House running for the Senate, Burr is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee...back on Heck, he's an Iraq veteran, a physician, first responder, but they've all had experience in or extensive knowledge of foreign and defense policy, and in all three cases their opponents are amateurs. And so, this is not the time internationally where you want to swap out proven, knowledgeable, effective people for amateurs.
Number two, you know I think the issues of terrorism, proliferation of nuclear weapons are very important to the American people. I think the Iran deal and what a terrible strategic mistake that was, people are very familiar with that, and obviously the terrorist threat, so those are some of the things we have focused on so far.
Right, and I would imagine that these Democratic opponents of these candidates you have endorsed would also be a rubber stamp for Hillary's foreign policy, would they not?
Yeah, I don't have any doubt about that. As I say, none of them–Hassan in New Hampshire is a state governor, the Nevada candidate is a former state attorney general and the person in North Carolina, Ross, running against Burr is a former ACLU staffer, so they've got essentially among the three of them zero international experience and I'm sure if Hillary were elected they would be precisely in line with her, and that's one of the things we're going to hit them on: They have supported the Obama foreign policy, and we need a change.
What would be the foreign policy ramifications of a Hillary presidency?
Well, I think personally it would be Obama's third term, and I think eight years of him have been more than enough to do us considerable damage, so we certainly don't need four more years, much less eight more years. But that, we're not really focused on Hillary in in the work we're doing. Obviously, each candidate this year has his or her own relationship to what's going on at the top of the ticket, we're really focused on the Senate races, and if we get in, and we may to a House race or two here or there, I think we follow the same pattern.
But certainly a GOP-controlled Congress can provide a check on Hillary's foreign policy, right?
Well, there's less they can do than in the domestic area given the way the Constitution allocates authority, but one important thing about the electing the right kind of people to the House and the Senate is to help change the national debate. You know, the conventional wisdom in Washington is voters don't care about foreign policy, and a lot of political operatives–God knows the political media–by and large don't know anything foreign and defense policy. I think that's a mistake for the country. If you're not debating your basic safety, then you're missing priority number one. So to me, having the right people in the Senate, even under a Clinton presidency, is still a very big priority.
Are you beginning to see the needle move in some of these races after you've gotten involved? There's a poll that came out today that showed that showed Richard Burr ahead of his opponent.
My view is that we ought to be able to put North Carolina back in the safe column, and by getting in right now...that's certainly our intention. But yeah, we track these ads very carefully. One thing about digital communication is we know who opens the ad, we know who watches it all the way through, as compared to broadcast TV where, you know, people are getting up, going to the kitchen and the ad, you don't know who's watching it and who's not.
Just going back to the foreign policy issues a little bit, when you talk about terrorism, the Iran deal, are you going to be focusing on the recent Iranian provocation on a U.S. Navy ship and the chlorine bombing in Syria, are those some of the things you think should be focused on this election cycle and these down-ballot races?
Well, we're looking now at the ads we're going to be doing in North Carolina. We expect new ads, we've got ads up now and this is our second sweep of ads in Nevada and New Hampshire, we expect another set-up in the near future. And we're kind of constantly evaluating it, and again I think that's one major plus of digital and social media is you can evaluate and make changes quickly, measuring what we think are not just inputs but outputs. You know, the conventional political adviser will say, we've bought X number of rating points. Well, that's great, that tells you what your input is, but we can say 50 percent of our ads people are watching all the way through. That's much more important. If they open the ad and turn it off after four or five seconds, it shows that we haven't caught their attention, and as of 2014 we're making tweaks and changes to the ads all the time.
Was the fact that these races were all in key swing states part of your decision to get involved in these races?
Well, it's more we've looked at the states, trying to calculate where we could make a real difference on the national security front. There are a lot of different reasons people vote for or against somebody, but we think, this is especially for some Republican candidates, this is not something their advisors are telling them to focus on, whereas we think the people are out ahead of the consultant class in Washington. So that's what we're looking for, where could we have the most impact, and especially given the uncertainty at the top of the ticket, where can we focus on a House race or Senate race, and if we do it, really help swing that particular race.
Is there any chance that the top of the ticket is producing some challenges for these down-ballot races?
We watch, obviously, the polls very carefully in each state. We watch what the commentators are doing, we watch what the candidates are doing. You know, I think in New Hampshire for example, Ayotte is suffering somewhat. She's running ahead of Trump in various polls. If Trump comes up, I think that will help her. But we're focusing on what we can do for the different Senate candidates and let the presidential take care of itself.