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Bolduc's military writings strike tone at odds with his current political image

Bolduc campaign website

As he campaigned in Manchester recently, Republican Senate candidate Don Bolduc offered this self-assessment to reporters: “I’m very good at strategy."

How Bolduc fares on Election Day may be the final word on that. But a string of campaign stumbles, including serial pirouettes on the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s 2020 election – Bolduc now maintains Biden won – have made the former Army general’s effort to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan feel like an uphill fight in a political climate that should favor Republicans.

Still, Bolduc remains bullish, and his 33-years in the military remain his prime credential in his bid to reach the Senate. That career often comes up on the campaign trail, but rarely in ways that seem much tied to the far-right positions Bolduc has often staked out in his second run for the Senate in four years.

At 60 years old, with cropped hair and a sturdy build, Bolduc still looks very much the soldier. Victor, the service dog he’s relied on since 2017, is also a conspicuous reminder of Bolduc’s own experience with PTSD.

Bolduc remains the Army’s highest ranking member to acknowledge having had it. He says mental health needs to be a top priority for the military.

“Thirty thousand servicemembers from 2001 to 2020 committed suicide; 7,000 were killed in combat during that same time period,” Bolduc noted in Nashua.

Bolduc supporters will tell you they are drawn to his military background, but to hear it from Bolduc himself, his image as a general isn’t something voters always see as a positive.

“The biggest question I get is: ‘All you do is give orders; how are you going to go down there and be able to work, and so on and so forth?’ ” Bolduc said in Nashua. “I tried to get the words ‘compassion’ and ‘empathy’ and ‘humanity’ in the dialogue of leadership traits in the military, but they were considered by the leadership as too soft terms.”

Bolduc’s own views on leadership are probably best articulated not on the campaign trail, but in a series of obscure writings he did for an online journal several years ago. From the time he left the military until he launched his first run for the Senate in May of 2019, Don Bolduc wrote more than a dozen essays for a publication called Small Wars Journal, a website largely aimed at military practitioners.

Some of these writings address military strategy and tactics. Bolduc served 10 tours of duty in Afghanistan, where he earned multiple Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts. Bolduc’s resume also includes serving as aide-de-camp to the Secretary of the Army, and leading U.S. Special Operations Command Africa.

Some Bolduc articles bluntly criticize U.S. strategy in fighting extremism and terrorism. In one, titled “Missteps in Afghanistan: Let Us Count The Ways,” Bolduc says the U.S. failed by not fully committing to a counter insurgent approach to fighting the Taliban.

“Afghans welcome help, but if you stay too long you become the enemy,” Bolduc wrote. “Instead of investing in the traditional Afghan local security and governance and building from the bottom up, we chose to grow the national government…and build from the top down.”

Bolduc’s writings also focus more broadly on leadership. In “My Leadership Journey And Other Observations,” Bolduc describes making “every leadership mistake in the book.” He assesses his own behavior as “self-serving at times, dishonest, egotistical, unfair and disrespectful.” Bolduc wrote that he ultimately learned the importance of “respect, humility, sympathy and empathy.”

“Our Army can no longer afford the organizational nepotism, advocacy-based, go-along-to-move-along . . . system that has developed to select senior leaders,” Bolduc writes in “Achieving Effective Leadership,” an article that includes a chart detailing what he calls “Bolduc’s Truth-Based Leadership Approach.”

The tone of these writings is earnest, and more studied than how Bolduc sometimes presents himself on the campaign trail. A term-paper feel can occasionally creep in. (“There are so many figures that rise and fall during the course of the 27-year Peloponnesian War,” reads one section.) But the points of reference in these writings – from Michael Jackson to Confucius, from St. Augustine to basketball coach John Wooden – suggest Bolduc takes knowledge where he finds it.

But it can be jarring to consider that these articles were written so recently given Bolduc’s current political stances. In one, written in early 2019, Bolduc quotes Bill Gates on the importance of good public relations: “If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on public relations.” Just one year later, Bolduc would be claiming, without basis, that Gates planned to put microchips in people as part of a COVID vaccine.

“The only chip the only that's going in me is a Dorito," Bolduc said in May of 2020,

But Bolduc’s rise in Republican politics has been significantly fueled by his willingness to embrace marginal or outright false positions. Add to that the shifting statements he’s made on abortion and entitlement programs, and it muddies the portrait he’s trying to paint of a steady military mind. And it is something Bolduc seemed to acknowledge as he campaigned last week, when he made the case that voters should not fault him for shifting his views.

“It should not be held against people for changing their minds, no more than it should be held against somebody for making a mistake.” Bolduc told reporters. “And if people can’t accept that, then I can’t do anything about it.”

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
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