If you want to understand Donald Trump’s high odds of winning his party’s presidential nomination in 2024, if he chooses to run, don’t focus on his most avid MAGA-movement supporters. Look at Republicans like his former attorney general Bill Barr, who make money trashing the 45th president in books and media appearances but say they’ll support his future political ambitions anyway. Like the many, many Republicans in 2016 who privately and even publicly disparaged Trump before climbing on his general election bandwagon, Barr and other “critics” of the 45th president hate Democrats more than they love the principles of democracy, respect for the law, and simple honesty that Trump has so frequently violated.
Barr resigned as attorney general just two weeks before the Capitol riot. He began whitewashing his submissive posture toward Trump about six months later, turning his last-minute resignation into an act of self-sacrificing courage. But as New York’s Jonathan Chait explained in June 2021, the “lackey” Trump chose to succeed the unacceptably independent Jeff Sessions at the Justice Department stuck with his tyrannical boss’s preparations for an election coup right up to the moment when he might have risked legal peril himself for validating fraud claims he knew to be fabricated:
After Joe Biden had defeated his boss, Barr began busily rewriting the history of his service to Trump, casting himself as a quiet bulwark of sanity and lawfulness. He resigned his post in December, and has given his story to reporter Jonathan Karl, who paints a largely (though not entirely) sympathetic portrait …
When he resigned before Christmas, Barr was still hedging his bets. Karl quotes the most ridiculously obsequious portion of Barr’s resignation letter, which asserted Trump “had been met by a partisan onslaught against you in which no tactic, no matter how abusive and deceitful, was out of bounds.” (This was consistent with the line Barr had taken throughout the Trump era: that Trump was primarily a victim of the media, Democrats, and Robert Mueller, and if any norms had been violated, they were by Trump’s enemies.)
Now, while promoting his new memoir, One Damn Thing After Another, in a high-profile interview with NBC News’s Lester Holt, Barr dramatized the story of his resignation into an angry confrontation in which he told the then-president his election-fraud allegations were “bullshit” and insisted on quitting on the spot. Trump subsequently did Barr the favor of reinforcing their split in a long letter to Holt charging that at the crucial moment, his AG “crumbled under pressure, and bowed to the Radical Left” and is now “groveling to the media, hoping to gain acceptance that he doesn’t deserve.” In one of his better bons mots, Trump said of Barr’s memoir that “if the book is anything like him, it will be long, slow, and very boring.”
But the very next day after his talk with Holt aired, Barr gave another interview, to Today’s Savannah Guthrie, and when pressed said that insofar as “I believe that the greatest threat to the country is the progressive agenda being pushed by the Democratic Party, it’s inconceivable to me that I wouldn’t vote for the Republican nominee,” even if it’s Trump.
So much like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in 2016, and Nikki Haley and Mitch McConnell in the days after Trump’s failed 2020 election coup, Barr is admitting that partisanship matters more to him than the disgraceful conduct he attributes to Donald J. Trump. So long as the ex-president can hold on to a bare plurality of grassroots Republican support over actual or potential rivals in 2024, his past sins (and his determination to repeat them) apparently won’t be a problem for the rest of the GOP. In the meantime, though, there are books to be sold and butts to be covered. It’s a phenomenon that the supremely transactional Trump may privately appreciate.
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