Barr on Trump

Waaaay too little, waaay too late.

Source: The White House

Via Common Sense: Bill Barr: Trump Will Burn Down the GOP. Time for New Leadership.

During the Republican primaries in 2016, I supported, in succession, every alternative to Donald Trump. I did not see him as our party’s standard-bearer. He was not my idea of a president. I could see that he was grossly self-centered, lacked self-control, and almost always took his natural pugnacity too far. While he could be compelling, I found myself cringing at his frequently juvenile, bombastic, and petulant style.  

And, so, he agreed to be his Attorney General, and helped deep-six the Mueller Report, as one does for someone who not one’s “idea of a president”–especially [checks quote again] someone who “grossly self-centered, lacked self-control, and almost always took his natural pugnacity too far.”

In fairness, he details some fairly vacuous positives of the former president:

I also saw Trump’s strengths. I liked the clear and direct way he staked out a position and his willingness to state unpleasant truths that many were afraid to say. I appreciated that he was willing to confront head-on difficult issues—like unfair trade deals, or our allies’ paltry defense spending—that other politicians dodged. Above all, Trump had accurately diagnosed, and given voice to, the deep frustration of many middle-class and working-class Americans who were fed up with the excesses of progressive Democrats; the shameless partisanship of the mainstream media; and the smug condescension of elites who had mismanaged the country, sold them out, and appeared content to preside over the decline of America. 

Apart from “unfair trade deals” and the reference to NATO defense spending (which Obama did, too, just not as childishly as Trump) I see nothing of substance in that paragraph. Indeed, I would love for Barr to make a list of, say, five “unpleasant truths” that Trump would say that others would not. While I can think of a lot of unpleasant things he was willing to say, I am finding myself unclear on the truths in question.

Later in the essay he does list the following,

Trump has every reason to be proud of his administration’s substantive achievements. Among other things, his tax reform and deregulatory efforts generated the strongest and most resilient economy in American history—one that brought unprecedented progress to many marginalized Americans. He had begun to restore U.S. military strength by increasing spending on new-generation weapons, advanced technology, and force readiness. He correctly identified the economic, technological, and military threats to the United States posed by China’s aggressive policies. By brokering historic peace deals in the Mideast, he achieved what most thought impossible. He had the courage to pull us out of ill-advised and detrimental agreements with Iran and Russia. And he fulfilled America’s long-delayed promise to move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. 

Quite frankly, most of that (save maybe the Jerusalem move) would have been achieved by any GOP president with control of Congress. And military spending and weapons development hardly stall under Democratic control.

Not surprisingly, the bulk of this piece is not really about Trump’s flaws as president, as much as it is about his flaws as a candidate. Barr far more bemoans Trump’s inability to win 2020 (and therefore in 2024) than anything else. Trump’s problem, you see, is tone.

Take his handling of Covid. The pandemic was not necessarily fatal to Trump’s reelection chances. What hurt Trump was not the substance of his decisions, but his tonal response. His behavior reinforced what many people found repellant about his personality. He yielded to his impulse for pettiness and pointless nastiness; got drawn into infantile name-calling spats; and, in his press conferences, made everything about himself.

Sorry, Mr. Barr, but the substance of his decisions on Covid were highly problematic and led to thousands of unnecessarily dead Americans. So, no, the failings were not just tonal.

At any rate, Barr is worried about Trump’s ability to unite the party and win in 2024:

It is painfully clear from his track record in both the 2020 election and the 2022 midterms that Donald Trump is neither capable of forging this winning coalition or delivering the decisive and durable victory required. Indeed, among the current crop of potential nominees, Trump is the person least able to unite the party and the one most likely to lose the general election. 

Trump’s extraordinarily divisive actions since losing in 2020 are not those of someone capable of leading a party, much less a country. Right after his defeat, he treacherously sabotaged GOP efforts to hold the Georgia Senate seats. The GOP’s poor performance in the recent midterms was due largely to Trump’s mischief. He fueled internal fights within state parties. He attacked popular Republican governors in Maryland, New Hampshire, and Arizona to dissuade them from running for Senate seats they could have won. He supported weak candidates for key Senate and House seats based solely on their agreeing with his “stolen election” claims. And after foisting these candidates on the GOP, he failed to provide them adequate financial support, largely sitting on a massive war-chest of cash raised from small dollar donors.  

It seems to me that Trump isn’t really interested in broadening his appeal. Instead he is content to focus on intensifying his personal hold over a faction within the party…

But, of course, the basic behaviors listed above were true (even if the specifics were not yet in place) in 2019 when Barr became part of the cabinet (and, again, did his best to scuttle the Mueller Report).

Quite frankly, this kind of essay (of which I expect to see a lot between now and 2024’s primary season) feels an awful lot like apologies that consist of “I am sorry if anyone was offended” (or, perhaps more accurately, simply sorry that they got caught). This also feels a lot like 2015 and up and until Trump won the Electoral Vote in 2016 when all the Serious Republicans were siding against Trump until, you know, he won, and then over time a lot of those Serious Republicans decided that they could stomach Trump after all.

If Barr really wants to stop Trump, he needs to tell the unvarnished truth about his time in the administration and be willing to do a real mea culpa personally and on his party’s behalf. To try and have his cake and eat it too on this is simply unacceptable, but is certainly what one would expect from a toady like Barr.

But, of course, that won’t happen because Barr’s real regret is not Trump (or his tone) but the threat of losing the election in 2024.

FILED UNDER: US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Kathy says:

    Barr says: “I liked the clear and direct way he staked out a position and his willingness to state unpleasant truths …”

    When has Benito ever stated even single truth?

  2. MarkedMan says:

    I, like most of the people here, like to think of myself as a rational thinker who doesn’t give in to hype or conspiracy theories. The problem with this outlook is that it is all too easy to miss when someone is truly outside normal and decent bounds, essentially, when they really are out to get you. Bill Barr falls into that category. He is a dangerous fanatic with an extreme authoritarian world view. He has made it clear on numerous occasions that he considers rights that conflict with his Opus Dei inspired theology to be evil and harmful and should not be tolerated.

  3. gVOR08 says:

    So Bill Barr is a lying careerist sack of spit. And a Republican, but I repeat myself.

    The world’s flooded with memoirs of people who sacrificed themselves (by taking high positions in the administration) to save us from Trump’s worst excesses. Which, trust them, would have been a lot worse without them. And soon they’ll have all been responsible for ditching Trump and we can trust them now that that horrible person who just somehow fell from the sky and forced himself on them is gone.

  4. Scott F. says:

    Barr is just pissed that Trump draws a bright red circle around the profound dangerousness of the former AG’s preference for unbounded power for the Executive. Authoritarianism in the hands of an Orange Gibbon doesn’t sell quite as well as it might were the Imperial President more “tonally” correct.

  5. Kathy says:

    The Cheeto so-called administration did a great deal of harm to the world, the USA, and the Republiqan Party.

    What passes for a GQP establishment these days cares only about the last one.

    The comments on the COVID response, or rather lack thereof, illustrate this perfectly: it didn’t hurt much electorally, but it could have hurt less if the Cheeto had behaved better and hadn’t said the quiet parts loud.

    Over a million dead people just in America? Who cares! That didn’t hurt the GQP’s electoral chances much.

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    There’s not enough Febreeze in the world for Trump’s toadies to get his stink off them.

  7. Thomas Hilton says:

    Bill Barr: Trump Will Burn Down the GOP.

    From his lips to the auditory appendages of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

  8. Argon says:

    Are we taking about the same Bill Barr, the beacon of justice & brave teller of painful truths, who redacted the Mueller report and lied about the conclusions?

    These folks seem to discover the virtues of ethics and law right after they leave their positions. Would’ve been nice if they felt that way while they had that responsibility.

  9. charon says:

    Bill Barr: Trump Will Burn Down the GOP.

    A common belief, widely held. Steve M. disagrees:

    Politico’s Michael Kruse spoke to Rick Wilson, who believes (as many people do) that Donald Trump will set out to destroy the Republican Party if Ron DeSantis beats him in the 2024 primaries.


    This feels true, but I think it’s wrong.

    Trump was rejected in Georgia this year — Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger both won Republican primaries after refusing to help Trump overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in Georgia. And what did Trump do as an act of revenge? Nothing. Oh sure, he took one swipe at Kemp (more than a year before the general election), saying “Stacey, would you like to take his place?” onstage during a rally in Georgia. But Trump didn’t help Stacey Abrams in the governor’s race. He didn’t endorse her. He didn’t tell voters during the heat of the campaign that they should stick it to Kemp by voting for her. The same is true for Raffensperger’s Democratic opponent.

    One reason Trump didn’t do this is that — like your grandparents in Florida — he watches Fox News hours a day and, as a result, believes Democrats are pure evil. He’s not going to help one win, even to get back at an enemy.

    But the main reason Trump didn’t do this is that his obsession is making himself look like a winner. Dragging an enemy down doesn’t accomplish that.

  10. charon says:

    Barr is just a weathervane, goodbye Trump, last year’s news, hello DeSantis, same policies with less crazy behavior that voters are tired of.

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I liked … his willingness to state unpleasant truths that many were afraid to say.

    What you, I, and the rest of the sane world called bald faced lies.

  12. @charon: “Burning down the Republican Party” isn’t overtly helping Democrats like Abrams. “Burning down the Republican Party” is getting into a massive fight with Ron DeSantis.

  13. @Steven L. Taylor: In other words, the damage isn’t going to be after (if) DeSantis beats him–it will be in the process leading up to that potential defeat.

  14. Stormy Dragon says:

    Since Bill Barr likes people who directly state unpleasant truths:

    Bill Bar is a traitor and his attempts to distance himself from his treason will not convince anyone worth convincing.

  15. CSK says:

    I disagree with the notion that Trump thinks Democrats are pure evil, though he may say that he does. To the extent that he thinks about them at all, to him they’re just obstacles to getting what he wants.

  16. ptfe says:

    Looking ahead to the presidential election of 2024, I believe the defining feature of our political landscape continues to be the sharp leftward lurch of the Democratic party. That opens up a historic opportunity for the GOP—the opportunity to revive something like the old Reagan coalition: a combination of Republican-leaning, college-educated suburbanites; culturally conservative working-class voters; and even some classical liberals who are repulsed by the left’s authoritarianism.

    There’s the Bill Barr we were all waiting for. Same old recycled tropes since time immemorial: “leftward lurch” – presumably defined by believing women aren’t baby factories and trans people are people; “left’s authoritarianism” – by which we can only assume he means participatory democracy with ideas about equality, fairness, and (gasp!) social responsibility.

    Reagan understood that the purpose of a political party is winning elections.

    Nothing about the dangers that Trump poses to the democracy at large, nothing about how even broad policy goals require the kind of participatory system that his lies were specifically designed to undermine. Nope: parties are for winning elections, and Trump won’t win an election for us. “Just leave that stolen-election door open, son, because we might want to go through in 2024!”

    Bill Barr would be pathetic if his kind weren’t so dangerous. He’s full-on partisan trash, but for political power he’ll gleefully embody the German expression “arschkrieker”.

  17. MarkedMan says:

    @charon: Wow, Steve M’s analysis seems so wrong to me on so many levels. Sure, Trump still needs something from the GOP, so he keeps himself in check a bit. But if the GOP rejects him, they are not only fair game but judging by his past history, obligatory game. Trump always, always attacks his former partners when his deals go south. Of course, it’s been decades since any serious players got in bed with him. In this century or even into the 90’s his “partners” have really just been his chumps and he has no need to acknowledge them. So I guess it’s possible he could have changed his modus operandi, but I don’t see any reason to think so.

    On the other hand, these attacks have always been relatively short lived so “burning down the GOP” may be over selling it. Back when he was still pursuing “the biggest deals” with his fathers money the scenario was, 1) Huge promises before the venture actually got started, 2) Initial stages with even huger promises, 3) first signs of failure, leading to lashing out at those pointing out the failures in ever more extreme terms, 4) obvious failure, leading his partners to admit defeat and throw in the towel, which in turn led Trump to start attacking them as losers and traitors, people he only did business with because other people had recommended them, 5) Trump disappears for months or a year or two before he reemerges with a new “biggest deal” and he has obviously pushed the previous failure completely from his mind.

  18. charon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Massive fight?

    Trump has been attacking DeSantis, but that so far does not seem to have damaged him.

    A while back I posted David Frum’s opinion that DeSantis must fight back and attack Trump or else look weak like say Jeb Bush etc. in 2016. (Because GOP voters are presumably suckers for WWE/macho posturing and trash talk).

    That’s not how DeSantis is playing though – unless I have missed it, DeSantis has not criticized Trump at all, and seems like he is getting away with it. But we will see I guess.

  19. CSK says:

    It’s difficult to tell who the MAGAs hate most–Bill Barr or Mike Pence. The vituperation they rain down on the heads of both is almost frightening in its intensity.

  20. charon says:

    In all of the recent cases where a first term president has faced a primary battle (e.g., Ford, Carter etc.) he has been defeated for reelection. I wonder if the same would apply to an ex-president?

  21. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    Call a spade a spade…Barr, and plenty of others like him, are for Party over Country and would stand for ANYTHING from Trump if it meant winning power.
    Paul Ryan staked out the very same position a couple days ago.

    “…but I am a Never-Again Trumper. Why? Because I want to win, and we lose with Trump. It was really clear to us in ’18, in ‘20 and now in 2022.”

    Pieces of shit, every one of them.

  22. Sleeping Dog says:


    Once he announces, DeSantis will need to rebut trump, but for now treating him as the demented, elderly uncle that trump is will suffice. For those R voters who believe trump is past his sell by date and even the soft cultists, who can be pulled away, DeSantis seems to be the adult in the room.

    For those Rs hoping for a soon to be post-trump party, what they need and want is for an array of party stalwarts and the R partisan press to keep taking shots at him. Make trump King Kong clasping to the flag pole atop the Empire State Building swatting at airplanes.

  23. charon says:


    It’s difficult to tell who the MAGAs hate most–Bill Barr or Mike Pence.

    I can sympathize, considering what an obvious weathervane/remora Barr is.

  24. @charon: The fight isn’t now. It will be if DeSantis declares and then into the primary season.

  25. @charon:

    That’s not how DeSantis is playing though – unless I have missed it, DeSantis has not criticized Trump at all, and seems like he is getting away with it. But we will see I guess.

    If DeSantis declares that move will be inherently critical and an attack in and of itself. And then the war of words will commence.

    Trump is already calling names because he feels threatened.

  26. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    DeSantis is smarter than Trump, and will simply let Trump punch himself in the face for 6 months before he steps into the race.

  27. dazedandconfused says:

    I have difficulty imagining DeSantis not running. The Murdochs have dubbed him the successor so he must run against Trump or bend the knee to him. Attempting to straddle the fence or bending the knee gets him branded a coward and he’s smart enough to know it. His Rubicon moment approaches.

  28. Sleeping Dog says:


    If DeSantis decides to run, he’ll need to be actively building an organization and fundraising by summer, with an announcement in the early fall. Let others punch at Trump and as @daryl and his brother darryl: suggests, let trump punch himself silly. Till summer he can pretty much ignore trump.

    Of course being ignored, will drive trump crazy and that won’t hurt DeSantis either.

  29. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: The MAGAts are only about 25 or so percent of Republicans, maybe less. Sadly, the fact that they are the %age most likely to show up for the primaries does not speak well for the GQP going forward as a post-FG party. (Which wouldn’t be substantively different from the current one anyway.)

  30. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @charon: The only ex-President so far won on election to his second term. Of course, Donand J. Trump is no Grover Cleveland.

    (Did I actually just say that? WTF?)

  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Sleeping Dog: What purpose would having a post-Trump party consisting of the likes of Ron DeSatanistDeSantis, Ted Cruz, Matt Gaetz, MGT, Boebert, Gym Jordan, and whoever the f**k other dysfunctional wastes of communal air you want to mention serve? A post-Trump Republican Party is simply ss/dd in a new package.

  32. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    No disagreement. An R being anti-trump isn’t the same thing as being anti-trumpism. The party is a seething cesspool of grievance that stands in for what would normally be the parties ideology. But that is as much as you can expect from a party that is trying to deliver to its masters the opposite of what it is telling its members.

    There are no longer any normal R’s beyond a small handful of office holders that try and stay away from the dumpster fire. Slowly but surely the normies have been, for all practical purposes, leaving the party when they leave office. I’d also point out, that most of that small group of normies are in state government office.

  33. Kathy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    A detail about Cleveland is he won the popular vote on his first term, then again when he ran for reelection but lost in the EC. On his third try, he again won the popular vote.

    El Cheeto was the beneficiary, not the victim of an EC inversion, and he has lost the popular vote twice by large margins.

    So, he could lose two elections on the EC and three on the popular vote. I don’t think anyone has managed that before. It would be a triumphal achievement, and the answer to obscure trivia tourneys fifty years from now.

  34. Gustopher says:

    And, so, he agreed to be his Attorney General, and helped deep-six the Mueller Report, as one does for someone who not one’s “idea of a president”–especially [checks quote again] someone who “grossly self-centered, lacked self-control, and almost always took his natural pugnacity too far.”

    I can see an argument that since Trump was president, and nothing was going to change that, that the best thing to do is work for him and try to keep a section of the government running as well as one can under the circumstances.

    I don’t think that’s what Barr did though.

    At any rate, Barr is worried about Trump’s ability to unite the party and win in 2024

    A large part of Trump’s appeal is that people think of him as a winner*, and by claiming the election was stolen, he has held onto that for a lot of his fans.

    Here I think Barr is saying that Trump is a loser and is going to continue being a loser.

    Barr may be entirely self-serving, but he is attacking a pillar of Trump’s strength. If Barr was extending this to Trumpism/proto-Fascism in general, that would be more meaningful, but even this watered down version may help keep the Republican establishment from rallying around Cuck L’Orange.

    We are not the audience for this, the Republican establishment is. I have no idea what they will or won’t listen to.

    *: Has there ever been someone so miserable and aggrieved? Even when he wins, he basically loses.

  35. dazedandconfused says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    IMO the pressure on DeSantis to make a decision will force him to make one within 6 months.

  36. Paine says:

    Geez. I really don’t miss the Trump sitting while everyone else stands at attention around him-genre of photos.


  37. Fog says:

    The most dedicated Trumpers are the white supremacists – Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, the dumbasses at the end of the bar, etc. Trump is their man and intellectual persuasion is not their game. Don’t forget about those folks. Republican politicians sure don’t. The only real power Trump has now is the threat of their violence against his enemies. DeSantis has been working quietly to switch their allegiance, like making a point of hiring police officers fired due for refusing a vaccine mandate elsewhere (According to the racists, the vaccine is a gubbamint plot to kill them). And then there’s gerrymandering Black districts out of existence, the election police that only targets Democrats and Black folk, etc, etc, to establish himself as a Good Southern Man.
    Lil Ronnie is not playing it cool in some crafty political dosy-do, he’s trying to establish himself as the true successor to Trump’s mantle as head racist so they don’t shoot him when he challenges their Orange Jeebus.

  38. de stijl says:

    Sorry, man.

    You worked for Donald Trump on purpose. You wanted to.

    No way am I gonna give you a pass. You fucked up badly. You politicized investigations by choice.

    There is no way I’m gonna give you a pass. I appreciate that you are sorry, Mr. Barr, and quite contrite, but fuck you! You made that bed on purpose for years and now you want a pass?! Fuck you! You were complicit in creating this mess willingly. You are a major contributer to the mess we need to mop up now, still.

    You were front and center when Trump was going off the deep end and you did nothing. You went along, you were a toadie. The one thing I expect from career bureaucrats is that they do the right thing under pressure from on high.

    Mr. Barr, you failed the test many, many times in a row. Ain’t no way I will forgive you and give you a pass. You fucked up, on purpose, way too many times to forgive and forget. Not happening!

    You are basically a co-conspirator. Where was your spine and your conscience in 2019 and 2020 when it mattered? You fucked up, you failed the decency test when push came to shove. You failed, hard. You were expected to uphold a standard. Fuck you! You had a choice.

    I reject your apology! I’m not having it and do not accept. Fuck you!