WASHINGTON — Even when he was a student at the McDonogh School, John Bolton had a flair for foreign policy — and a sharp tongue that was sometimes less than diplomatic.
A lifelong conservative, Bolton had a nickname for a beloved liberal history teacher at the Owings Mills school he attended as U.S. involvement in Vietnam was escalating: "Mao."
Now, a half-century later, the Baltimore native is one of at least two candidates President-elect Donald Trump is considering for secretary of state, a marquee Cabinet post that will signal to the world what kind of White House the businessman and political outsider intends to lead.
"He'd be a nice fit," said former CIA analyst Fred Fleitz, who worked for Bolton at the State Department under President George W. Bush. "I think he lines up very closely with Trump, especially on the Iran deal."
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is also a top contender for the job. But his candidacy was thrown into question Tuesday afternoon as reports emerged of Giuliani's paid consulting work for foreign governments.
Bolton, 67, would be a hugely controversial choice to be the nation's top diplomat. Despised by Democrats, and viewed warily by many in his own party, Bolton — a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — has been criticized not only for his hawkish positions but also for an abrupt rhetoric that has often flared rather than eased tensions.
In that sense, Bolton is not that different from Trump.
He once said the 39-story United Nations' Secretariat Building in New York could lose 10 floors and it "wouldn't make a bit of difference." As a member of the Bush administration, he drew international attention ahead of talks with North Korea in 2006 when he called Kim Jong Il a "tyrannical dictator."
Like Trump, Bolton has been critical of the Iran nuclear agreement negotiated by the U.S, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
But he differs sharply from the incoming president on other foreign policy questions. Trump said frequently during the campaign that he opposed the Iraq war; Bolton was an architect of the 2003 U.S. invasion. Trump has sought another "reset" of U.S. relations with Russia; Bolton has taken a more confrontational approach with Moscow.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, launched a pre-emptive strike against a Bolton nomination on Tuesday.
"Bolton is a longtime member of the failed Washington elite that Trump vowed to oppose, hell-bent on repeating virtually every foreign policy mistake the U.S. has made in the last 15 years — particularly those Trump promised to avoid as president," he wrote in an internet op-ed on Tuesday. "No man is more out of touch with the situation in the Middle East or more dangerous to our national security than Bolton."
As Paul's op-ed was picked up by national media, few came to Bolton's defense.
The son of a Baltimore firefighter, Bolton grew up in a rowhouse in a working-class neighborhood behind Mount St. Joseph High School. From McDonogh, he went to Yale College and Yale Law School, where he was classmate of Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham.
Bolton worked in the Nixon White House and served as general counsel for the U.S. Agency for International Development before joining the State Department.
President George W. Bush named Bolton under secretary of state for arms control and international security affairs, a post he held from 2001 until 2005. Bush then nominated him to be ambassador to the United Nations.
When it became clear Bolton was unlikely to win Senate confirmation, Bush used a recess appointment to put him in the job.
Bolton, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, declined to comment Tuesday.
Bolton is one of several Republicans from Maryland who could have a role in Trump's administration. The reliably blue state voted overwhelmingly for Clinton last week, but is nevertheless home to a number of Republicans who are well connected in Washington.
David Bossie, a political activist from Montgomery County who this year took a more active role in the Republican National Committee, might wind up running it. Bossie, the head of Citizens United, orchestrated a successful campaign this year to be a Republican committeeman from Maryland. He then became a deputy campaign manager for Trump.
Now Bossie is considered a top candidate to succeed Reince Priebus, the current party chairman, who was named over the weekend as Trump's incoming chief of staff.
Aides to former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. declined to say whether he is discussing a position despite reports Tuesday that he had met with members of Trump's transition team. Neither the former governor nor a spokeswoman for Trump responded to messages.
Retired John Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson was considered a candidate to head the Department of Health and Human Services or the Department of Education under Trump.
The renowned physician, who ran an unsuccessful presidential campaign this year, has been an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act, and often discusses how education pulled him out of poverty and into medicine.
But the former Baltimore County man removed himself from the running for either job Tuesday. A Carson aide told The Hill newspaper that the conservative Republican "feels he has no government experience," and "the last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency."
Rep. Andy Harris, a Hopkins anesthesiologist, has said he spoken to the Trump transition team about medical policy but not does expect a job in the administration.
A week after his historic upset in the presidential election over Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump was in Manhattan with Vice President-elect Mike Pence as the two met with transition officials in an effort to staff up his senior advisers.
Even as Trump narrowed in on top appointments, there were signs of tumult within his transition team. Former Rep. Mike Rogers, a well-respected Republican voice on national security, announced his resignation from the transition team Tuesday, a move likely to rattle GOP officials who worry about Trump's lack of foreign policy experience.
Trump spokesman Jason Miller cast the meeting with Pence as a significant step in the process toward nominating Cabinet secretaries.
"If the vice president-elect is getting together with the president-elect to discuss names, I would say it's getting serious," Miller said.
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