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Former National Security Advisor John Bolton speaks at Duke Unviersity. Photo:

John Bolton in an op-ed Saturday railed against President Trump's attempt to falsely cast the election of Joe Biden as one stolen through fraud, saying the "Republican Party now faces a character test," as it responds to the president's "deeply troubling" behavior.

The big picture: Bolton, who has been a critic of Trump's since leaving the White House last year, called on Republicans to reject the president's false election claims. "The party’s leaders can either reject Trump’s false claims and insist that he provide actual evidence in court, or join in his fantasia and forever tar their own reputations, and that of the party," the former national security adviser wrote in the Telegraph.

What he's saying: "[I]f things end as now seems likely, whatever damage the electoral process and the nation’s institutions have suffered in recent days is easily repairable," Bolton wrote, pointing to the Florida recount battle in 2000, for which he served on George W. Bush's legal team.

  • "There is, however, one significant caveat: if the Leader of the Free World continues to claim, with essentially no supportive evidence, that the election was stolen through fraud, we will have far more serious problems than merely reconciling disappointed partisans to the reality of defeat," he continued.
  • "Any candidate is entitled to express disappointment when he or she loses, complain that life is unfair, and trigger all legitimately available election-law remedies to seek redress for alleged improprieties. Of course, raising claims, however permissible, is not the same as proving them, or showing that even validated claims have had an actual, let alone dispositive, effect on the election itself."
  • "Responsible politicians know that, ultimately, they will pay a price if they go too far, even rhetorically. Apparently, no one ever explained this to Trump, or if they did, he didn’t pay any more attention to it than he usually pays to good advice."
  • "There is also a larger question ahead once the election is well and truly behind us. ... The Republican Party must begin a serious conversation about its new direction going forward, which I hope will return it to a Reaganite approach."
  • "It is profoundly wrong to contend, as many commentators already are, that Trump has an iron grip on the party, and will dictate its strategy and determine its candidates from exile at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, perhaps plotting a 2024 Trump presidential campaign."
  • "In fact, Trump’s influence will drop precipitously once he leaves the Oval Office. He will be, in a word he hates, a loser, and the whole world will know it."
  • Bolton conceded that not "all of Trump’s legacy is bad."
  • But "[w]ithout Trump, we can now seek the return of voters whom his behaviour repulsed, and build a long-term Republican governing majority."

The bottom line: "Soon again, we will elect a real conservative Republican president," Bolton concluded.

Go deeper: Trump's 75-day finale, fully unrestrained

Go deeper

Ronna McDaniel says RNC would stay "neutral" in primaries if Trump ran in 2024

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel told the AP on Wednesday that if former President Trump runs again in 2024, the GOP will remain "neutral" during the primary season.

Why it matters: McDaniel has been staunchly supportive of the former president, who endorsed her to keep running the RNC. She now must focus on regaining majorities in Congress, especially as the Republican party reckons with what the GOP looks like after Trump, even as he remains hugely popular with his base.

Virginia lawmakers vote to legalize marijuana in 2024

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. Photo: Alex Edelman/Getty Images

Lawmakers in Virginia on Saturday approved compromise legislation that would legalize marijuana in 2024, putting the state a step closer to becoming the first in the South to end prohibition on the drug, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

Why it matters: The legislation will make Virginia the 16th state to legalize marijuana, per Politico. It would add to a slate of laws that have seen Virginia move in a more progressive direction during the tenure of Gov. Ralph Northam.

Scammers seize on COVID confusion

Data: FTC; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Scamming has skyrocketed in the past year, and much of the increase is attributed to COVID-related scams, more recently around vaccines.

Why it matters: The pandemic has created a prime opportunity for scammers to target people who are already confused about the chaotic rollouts of things like stimulus payments, loans, contact tracing and vaccines. Data shows that older people who aren't digitally literate are the most vulnerable.