Bill Barr Is Right
Here's an admirably straightforward interview Bari Weiss did with former Trump administration Attorney General Bill Barr. He sensibly says that he supported Donald Trump as the GOP nominee in 2016, because the alternative was worse. He was not a Never Trumper, and even today is not: Barr says that if Trump is the nominee in 2024, he will likely (depending on the results of ongoing investigations) do the same. But he makes it clear that Trump is a liability, and why. Here is a key excerpt from Weiss's long and engrossing interview with an actual grown-up conservative unafraid to guard his own independence of mind, and to speak it:
BW: That’s sort of an unsatisfying answer to the Republican who I’m sure comes up to you all the time as one of the most prominent conservatives in the country and says: “Why should I trust these people anymore, Bill?”
AG BARR: Well, what’s the alternative? Something I’m pretty tired of from the right is the constant pandering to outrage. The picking and picking at the scab without trying to channel those feelings in a constructive direction. In my opinion, Ronald Reagan was a great populist not because he followed the frustrated instincts and the outrage of the people, but because he channeled it and was constructive with it.
I always say, “What’s the alternative?” We have these institutions that need reform. The first step is to win an election with a decisive majority that allows you to put a program into effect and fix some of these problems going forward. That is not done by just throwing fuel on the fire of outrage on one side of the equation while the other side does the same thing on their side. I don’t see anything productive coming out of that. I think we should basically try to persuade people. People like Youngkin, the Governor of Virginia, have shown that the Republican Party is a potential majority party.
The problem with Trump is that it’s all about running a base election. Whip up your base, get them all upset and outraged, and turn them out at the polls. Both sides do that. That is a prescription for continued hostility and demoralization of the country. The first side to break out of that will do so by restoring politics to what it should be, which is the politics of trying to capture a majority of the people through persuasion and with a decisive enough majority to change things. That’s what we should be focused on, but we’re not right now. That’s not Trump's approach.
BW: I want to talk about the future of the Republican Party. It seems like if they just committed to being normal and stood in place, they could win bigly, as Trump might put it. I think it’s hopeful to point to someone like Glenn Youngkin and say that could be the future. But it seems to me that Trump still carries the day. His endorsement still matters a great deal. The amount of pandering that you see to him, especially from first-time candidates, is unbelievable. It seems like the old idea was that you would surround Trump with smart people and they would keep him in line. But the opposite seems to have happened. It seems like the GOP is now pretty fully Trumpified. How do you see it?
AG BARR: I think you’re right that right now is a tremendous opportunity for the Republican Party. The defining dynamic of our period right now is the sharp leftward turn of the Democratic Party. That creates a huge opportunity because they’ve moved so far to the left, which can allow the Republicans to come in, as they did in 1980, and seize a decisive majority. That enabled Reagan to win two terms. It also forced the Democrats to elect a moderate Democrat like Clinton, who ran the country in the center.
So it’s a huge opportunity. But instead of taking it, we are purging the party and starting civil wars over whether people are RINOs. This is how I see the Republican Party: There’s never been more consistent conservatism within the Republican Party than there is today. The idea that there are RINOs, people that really don’t support Republican principles, is simply not true. What the president is defining as RINOs are people who are true blue Republicans and conservatives but who just have a problem with Trump personally. This is all personal to Trump. Trump is doing something that I can't think of any great leader in the past doing. He controls, in my view, maybe a third of the Republican Party. But what makes him powerful is that this is a man who’s willing to say that if you don’t do things my way and if I’m not the nominee, I’m taking my ball and going home. I will sabotage anyone you put up. He not only does that in the presidential election, but he’ll also do that in state elections. It’s my person or it’s sabotage. This pursuit of a personal agenda and personal power is weakening the Republican Party at a time when it could have a historic victory and make historic progress in “making America great again.”
I say to the people that want to make America great again, “What will it take to do that?” You don’t do it just by making your base madder and madder. It means winning big victories. I think the approach that Trump follows is weakening the Republican Party, not strengthening it. Reagan's approach in 1980 was unifying the party and bringing over classical liberals who were upset at the turn of the Democratic Party in the 60s and 70s. We should be doing the same thing now.
BW: I know a lot of people who would be open to not voting Democrat for the first time in their life. They’re looking at a party that seems unbelievably out of touch. Unappealing is an understatement. But then they look across the aisle and they see people like Kari Lake, who could become the governor of Arizona, peddling Trump’s lies, talking about how Biden lost the election, and saying that the election was corrupt. You haven’t minced words about the 2020 election. You’ve said the idea that the 2020 election was stolen is “bullshit”—a favorite word of yours. Why are so few other Republicans willing to just say it plain and straight?
AG BARR: The tactic that Trump is using to exert this control over the Republican Party is extortion. What other great leader has done this? Telling the party, “if it’s not me, I’m going to ruin your election chances by telling my base to sit home. And I’ll sabotage whoever you nominate other than me.” It shows what he's all about. He’s all about himself.
AG Barr expresses exactly how I feel about things. The Left is so radical, and so destructive, that it is hard for me to imagine not voting for Trump in 2024 if he is the nominee. That said, I desperately hope he is not the nominee. I think the only Republican that the Democrats stand to beat in the 2024 presidential race is Donald Trump. As grateful as I am for the judges he gave us, the weaknesses of a Trump presidency -- all the pointless, egotistical, self-defeating drama -- are not something that we on the Right can afford up against a Left that controls the Deep State, and all the major institutions of American society. We need a president who believes all or most of the things Trump says he believes, but who is also capable of governing with focus and intelligence (Barr tells Weiss that one surprising thing about Trump was that as a lifelong CEO, he was bad at managing people). We need, in other words, Ron DeSantis, or a candidate like him.
Barr's point here is absolutely crucial:
I say to the people that want to make America great again, “What will it take to do that?” You don’t do it just by making your base madder and madder. It means winning big victories. I think the approach that Trump follows is weakening the Republican Party, not strengthening it.
This is the point. This is the most powerful and important point for conservative voters to keep in mind. Yes, Trump has been badly done by in certain ways, but the ideals we conservatives believe in, and want to see put into policy, are far, far more important than whether Donald Trump's feelings have been hurt. We don't have the full story yet on the Mar-A-Lago raid, and it may turn out that Trump was unjustly treated by the Department of Justice. (Though I'm suspicious of the DOJ, it also might turn out that the DOJ had a good reason to conduct that raid; the public simply doesn't have enough evidence yet to judge.) Conservative voters have to ask ourselves if it matters more to us to get the country back on the right track, or to vindicate Trump.
Ron DeSantis is a populist who has an actual track record of conservative governance that attracts some center-left liberals who are fed up with the radicalism of the Left, which has conquered the Democratic Party. Remember when the media were screaming bloody murder over Florida's so-called "Don't Say Gay" law, many Americans were grateful for it -- even 55 percent of ALL AMERICANS who voted for Joe Biden! That's because the law is common sensical.
I've been at a conference in Oxford this week, and talked to people from all over the UK and Europe who had incredible stories to tell about how gender ideology is progressing in schools in their countries. I had heard that the left-wing German government was pushing through a law that would allow Germans as young as 14 legally change their gender at will, but I did not know until last night that that insanity is just the tiny tip of a mountain of an iceberg. One of my interlocutors told me he would send me documentation on all the things that are happening there in the schools, much of it ordered by the state.
We are in an epic fight with child-mutilators and the ideological fanatics of the Left who have captured the medical profession and the education profession, and who are using their power to conquer the minds and the bodies of our children. I'm not sure if this is available to the public or only to subscribers, but Wesley Yang turns his Substack over today to an anonymous progressive teacher who nevertheless is appalled by the gender radicalism taking over the schools. The man writes, in part:
Last month, I wrote another piece for Wesley’s Substack where I talked about the biggest barrier to discussing DEI programs productively: If you’re honest about what’s going on, no one will believe you, because it just sounds too crazy to be true. I imagine the same problem is going to pop up here, but what else can I do? Like it or not, the TERFs are right about this one.
Here are some solid figures: I had six classes last year, and I didn’t have a single one without multiple students who identified as transgender. Some classes had more than others, but the absolutely lowest number was two in a 26-person class. Most of these students were just non-binary, but I had least five in the midst of actual medical transition, along with quite a few more who spent their days planning how to get the process started. I’d estimate that 70% or so of these students are female, and talk about breast binding and “top surgery” are common conversation topics at lunch time. It’s hard to not step in when you hear an obviously depressed, dysfunctional teenage girl working out how she can convince her parents to approve a double mastectomy, but what can you do? If I said anything at all, I’d be fired in a heartbeat.
These children’s identities, as you might expect, are wildly unstable; I can count a total of nineteen pronoun changes requested by twelve students over just the last semester, along with six for changing names. It’s relatively common for students to transition, detransition, and transition again, especially in response to the identity shifts in their classmates. At one point, a single student’s decision to go with they/them pronouns set off a chain reaction that resulted in four more of her friends doing the same. It’s gotten so ridiculous that a neighboring teacher recommended weekly pronoun checks, just to avoid the outrage that inevitably comes with every “misgendering.”
This sort of obsessive fixation on gender is concerning enough, but the dynamic is hugely exacerbated by the administration’s willingness to outsource tedious work virtue signaling to student organizations – almost all of which are staffed entirely by the wokest of the woke. As a result, gender theory inevitably seeps into every last corner of the entire school experience.
The whole thing is jaw-dropping. Keep in mind too that many, many schools, both public and private, have adopted formal policies forbidding teachers and school personnel from telling parents that their minor children present as trans at school, without permission of these kids. Last week, a federal judge in Maryland upheld such policies in a local school district. As I wrote about the case, the State is now inserting itself between children and families for ideological reasons -- which is exactly what the Soviet regime did!
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This is an epic battle, one in which our side is unquestionably an underdog. And there are many others. Race, for example, and the DEI monster. If we are going to defeat this hydra-headed totalitarianism politically, then we are going to need to have politicians of vision, courage, and skill. We are not going to have forever, either. As political scientist Eric Kaufmann has written, American adults under the age of 30 prize cancel culture more than liberty. I was at a conference earlier this year in which he said to the gathered conservatives that conservatives had better put fighting the culture war front and center, because if they don't manage to turn the tide in the next one or two decades, it's going to be over for any non-woke Americans.
Politics alone can't defeat this tyranny, but without politics, there is no hope at all. We conservatives have to field our very best generals. We do not have the luxury of continuing to indulge Trump's nonsense -- not while the Left is consolidating its power within institutions and networks. This is not a game.