First, President Trump promised to drain the swamp of Washington. Very quickly, many of the swamp creatures were let back in. But a contingent of them stayed out: Republican foreign-policy hawks and centrists who had opposed Trump.
But the arrival of John Bolton to the National Security Council, and Mike Pompeo to the State Department, could spell a fresh start for Washington’s Republican foreign-policy establishment, the kind of people who would have been automatic hires in a Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio administration. Many of them have been sitting on Capitol Hill or at think tanks, after also missing out on the action during the Obama administration. The tumultuous and bizarre Michael Flynn era, the messy, infighting fueled Flynn-to-McMaster transition at the National Security Council, and the head-scratching austerity reign of Rex Tillerson at the State Department? These, some in foreign-policy circles felt, were better avoided. Bolton and Pompeo, though, seem like a return to something more familiar to those whose worldview and experience were shaped by the Bush administration, or even earlier Republican administrations.
“It’s back to the good old days,” one Republican operative and Bolton ally, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid publicly criticizing friends of theirs pre-dating Bolton in the administration, said. “We’re back.”
But despite who serves under him, Trump is still the president. And statements made in the heat of the campaign—op-eds, public commentary, and especially signatures on anti-Trump letters—have had a lasting impact for some in the Republican foreign-policy sphere. The effective “blacklist” against Never Trumpers, who formed the core of the group that would be the likeliest pool of foreign-policy-related political appointees in a Republican administration, has still discouraged some who opposed Trump from even putting their names up for consideration.