Thune Bolts on Bolton

Freshman Sen. John Thune (R.-S.D.) has dismayed many conservative admirers who strongly supported him in his successful campaign to unseat former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle by becoming the second Republican senator—after flaky Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio—to publicly declare his opposition to President Bush’s nomination of John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations.

Thune declared his opposition to Bolton after he voted for cloture on Bolton’s nomination two weeks ago as Republicans futilely tried to end a Democratic filibuster. But on May 26, Thune told the Associated Press he opposed Bolton because we should “take our diplomatic posture just as seriously as we take our defense posture.” Since Thune did not relate this idea to Bolton, many on Capitol Hill, interpreted Thune’s move as retribution against the administration for not stopping the inclusion of South Dakota’s Ellsworth Air Force Base on the list of bases recommended for closing by the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission. And Thune apparently believes, some say, that the non-political commission will change its decision because of his opposition to Bolton.

“Look, John Bolton’s going to be confirmed when there is a vote,” Thune told me last week. “But I’m dealing with home-state issues that are sensitive.”

Thune spokesman Kyle Downey told Human Events the senator believed Bolton was “not the best man for the job” and that this had as much to do with his opposition to the nomination as the proposed closing of Ellsworth.

Thune, however, has made no secret that keeping Ellsworth open is at the top of his priority list in the Senate. During his campaign, he visited Ellsworth, where he suggested that his friendship with Bush would put him in a better position to defend the base than Daschle would enjoy as an opposition leader who routinely clashed with Bush. Similarly, during a TV debate, Thune foolishly claimed a Republican with a relationship with Bush was needed “if we’re going to save Ellsworth.” Two weeks ago, Thune said saving Ellsworth and its 3,800 jobs was “inseparable from my work.”

In contrast to his spokesman’s negative statement about Bolton’s qualifications, Thune himself had spoken favorably of the President’s nominee before Ellsworth was placed on the base-closing list. “Folks on our side I don’t think have problems with where [Bolton] is on policy or ideology or the fact that he is taking an approach and a style to the UN that is much needed at the UN,” Thune said on MSNBC’s “Hardball” in April.

Despite general, widespread anger on the right over the senator’s opposition to the stalwart Bolton, Thune spokesman Downey claimed to me that “the senator is actually getting a great deal of support from conservatives who sympathize with his issue.”  Downey cited a recent pro-Thune article in National Review and favorable commentary from Rush Limbaugh and Brit Hume of Fox News. Of the disappointment on the right, Downey, incredibly, said, “We just don’t see it.”