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The Barr-Pence Line
Even the loyalists wouldn't cross it.
Amidst all of the bizarre scenes from the Trump presidency’s twilight attempted coup, pay attention to this one.
As the defeated president flailed around for ways to keep his grip on power, he considered having the military seize voting machines.
But the scheme was blocked by … Rudy Giuliani.
This is worth pondering for a moment. Trump’s coup attempt had become so barking mad that it was too much for the Melting Mayor of Four Seasons Landscaping.
The conflict between the former New York mayor and Trump’s bizarre legal team reached a crisis at a meeting in the Oval Office on December 18, 2020.
At the meeting, Mr. [Michael] Flynn and Ms. [Sidney] Powell presented Mr. Trump with a copy of the draft executive order authorizing the military to oversee the seizure of machines. After reading it, Mr. Trump summoned Mr. Giuliani to the Oval Office, according to one person familiar with the matter. When Mr. Giuliani read the draft order, he told Mr. Trump that the military could be used only if there was clear-cut evidence of foreign interference in the election.
Ms. Powell, who had spent the past month filing lawsuits claiming that China and other countries had hacked into voting machines, said she had such evidence, the person said. But Mr. Giuliani was adamant that the military should not be mobilized, the person said, and Mr. Trump ultimately heeded his advice.
Afterward, Giuliani would contact the Department of Homeland Security with a similar request to seize the machines, but that also went nowhere. That outreach came after Attorney General Bill Barr had also rejected suggestions that the Department of Justice join in the attempt to overturn the election.
The meeting with Mr. Barr took place in mid- to late November when Mr. Trump raised the idea of whether the Justice Department could be used to seize machines, according to two people familiar with the matter. Mr. Trump told Mr. Barr that his lawyers had told him that the department had the power to seize machines as evidence of fraud.
Barr, who had been Trump’s loyal Roy Cohn-like attack dog and defender, turned him down flat.
Mr. Barr, who had been briefed extensively at that point by federal law enforcement officials about how the theories being pushed by Mr. Trump’s legal team about the Dominion machines were unfounded, told Mr. Trump that the Justice Department had no basis for seizing the machines because there was no probable cause to believe a crime had been committed.
By then, as he later told author Jonathan Karl, he’d had enough of Trump’s lies.
“My attitude was: It was put-up or shut-up time,” Barr told me. “If there was evidence of fraud, I had no motive to suppress it. But my suspicion all the way along was that there was nothing there. It was all bullshit.”
As the coup gathered momentum, Barr resigned, effective December 23, 2020. He managed, however, not to publicly break with the president, or to warn the country at the time.
A few weeks later, Vice President Mike Pence would refuse to play his part in the attempt to overturn the election.
So, this is worth thinking about: Pence, Barr, and Giuliani were not merely Trump loyalists: over the last four years, they had repeatedly shown a willingness to rationalize, lie, cover-up, bully, bluster, and bend the law for Trump’s benefit.
But it turned out there were lines they would not cross. There was a Barr-Pence Line — and apparently even a Giuliani Line — beyond which there be dragons.
There were signs that there may even have been a Mitch McConnell Line, in the days after the attack on the Capitol, but those political lines proved to be porous, malleable, and ultimately disposable. (See Nikki Haley, Kevin McCarthy, Mike Gallagher, etc.)
But within the administration itself — in Trump’s own inner circles — some of the insanity was held at bay in the weeks before the inauguration. In today’s Bulwark, Mona Charen makes the point:
A little-noticed feature of the stories about Trump’s thus-far unsuccessful efforts to stage a coup is that even among the MAGA crowd, some things were considered beyond the pale. Barr was willing to swallow a lot, but he couldn’t go along with lying about imaginary vote fraud. The high-ranking lawyers at the Justice Department were Trump appointees, but they would resign en masse rather than see Clark subvert the department for plainly unlawful ends. Brad Raffensperger voted for Trump but refused to lie for him. Cuccinelli was Trump’s loyal immigration hawk, but he couldn’t see his way to using his Homeland Security post to confiscate voting machines and commit fraud. And though Mike Pence, pressed hard by Trump for the last full measure of devotion, wavered (he phoned Dan Quayle for advice), in the end, he did what he knew was right.
Why did they draw those lines? Why did they come so far only to say, at a crucial moment, no further? Charen notes that a healthy body politic “needs certain automatic defenses,” and even after four years of Trump, some members of his administration retained what she calls “the vestigial antibodies of a healthy democracy.”
“The people who made those crucial decisions were acting out of a sense that anything less would be dishonorable and would be perceived as such by the whole society.”
For all their many faults, Pence, Barr, and even Giuliani came from a different era of American politics, with lingering (and rapidly fading) memories of the rule of law and a (more or less) decent respect for the opinions of mankind.
But in a second Trump term, they won’t be there. It will be all Kayleighs, Bannons, Epshteyns, McEntees, Bonginos, D’Souzas, and Stephen Millers.
So consider this: In Trump 2.0, we may look back on Bill Barr, Mike Pence, and — God forgive me — Rudy Giuliani with a certain sense of nostalgia, because where are those lines now?
GOP not following Tucker’s lead
“Republican senators are unmoved by Tucker Carlson’s relentless warpath against support for Ukraine — even as it widens an existing rift in their party…
“On individuals up here who are decision-makers, I don’t hear any disagreement about the position Russia is in,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a brief interview. “Russia is the aggressor. … Ukraine has every right, as a sovereign nation, to have their borders respected. Russia’s not doing that.”
The disconnect between the GOP foreign policy establishment and the pro-Donald Trump base of the party on the value of intervening in foreign quagmires isn’t new. But the crisis in Ukraine is exposing the widening gulf between the two camps when it comes to committing U.S. resources in support of fledgling democracies under siege by authoritarian regimes.
At another juncture, a student demanded that the dean cover for the classes that the activists had missed as a result of the sit-in, suggesting that the move should be part of a “reparations” package for black students. She followed up by insisting that students be given a designated place on campus to cry. “Is there an office they can go to?” she asked. “I don’t know what it would look like, but if they want to cry, if they need to break down, where can they go? Because we’re at a point where students are coming out of class to go to the bathroom to cry.”
“And this is not in the future,” she added. “This is today.”
This concern for the emotional fragility of students has caused campuses to create “safe places,” for groups that wish to avoid certain troubling ideas, talks, or debates. When author Christina Hoff Sommers, for example, was invited to speak on the campus of Georgetown on the topic “What’s Right (and Badly Wrong) with Feminism?” her appearance was met with “trigger warnings.” One read: “Trigger warning: this event will contain discussions of sexual assault and may deny the experiences of survivors.” Another warned: “Trigger warning: anti-feminism.” A subsequent visit by Sommers to Oberlin sparked protests that her very presence on campus could lead to the creation of “a really unsafe space for people who attended.” At both Oberlin and Georgetown feminists created what they called “safe places” for students seek shelter from her remarks.
Brown University created a refuge for students who might find the discussion too traumatic. The result was a safe room – a refuge from any “troubling’ or “triggering” ideas – that was equipped “with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, blankets, and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma.”
But that was then. We are now in the midst of what Dana Milbank describes as “a blizzard of snowflakes in the red states.” He starts with the county in Tennessee that banned the book Maus.
So the state once celebrated for Davy Crockett’s bravery now fears a cartoon mouse exposing teens to indecorous language. Can’t get more snowflakey than that.
Spiegelman joins the good company of Nobel-laureate Toni Morrison (whose debut novel, “The Bluest Eye,” was banned in Wentzville, Mo., on Jan. 20), “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah (whose memoir survived a ban attempt in Osseo, Minn., last month) and Margaret Atwood (whose “The Handmaid’s Tale” was targeted in Goddard, Kan., in November) — as well as scores of other books, the vast majority of which have protagonists who are Black, or LGBTQ, or perceived as being anti-police.
McMinn County’s banning of Spiegelman’s mice comes almost a century after Tennessee tried to ban Darwin’s monkeys in the Scopes trial. The Volunteer State, apparently, is not evolving. And the political right, it seems, has undergone reverse evolution. Its new theory: survival of the fussiest.
ICYMI: We discussed this on yesterday’s podcast.
1. COVID Derangement Is Working Out Just Fine for the GOP
A.B. Stoddard, in today’s Bulwark, argues that “as a purely political matter—this whole COVID radicalism thing is going great for Republicans.”
A pandemic Republicans have eagerly prolonged has pummeled Joe Biden’s presidency and he can no longer fight depravity with good will. There are no more marginal vaccine holdouts to be wooed. No more lives of people who just don’t know any better to be saved.
It’s time for Democrats to stop worrying about alienating the unvaccinated and start explaining to the rest of the country how the unvaccinated—and the Republicans who coddle and truckle to them—have screwed the rest of us.
To win this culture war, Biden and the Democrats have to actually fight it.
Otherwise, the Republican COVID radicals are going to clobber them.
2. Race-Based Rationing Is Real—And Dangerous
In a series of articles this month, The Washington Free Beacon’s Aaron Sibarium reported that hospitals in Minnesota, Utah, New York, Illinois, Missouri, and Wisconsin have been using race as a factor in which COVID-19 patients receive scarce monoclonal-antibody treatments first. Last year, SSM Health, a network of 23 hospitals, began using a points system to ration access to Regeneron. The drug would be given to patients only if they netted 20 points or higher. Being “non-White or Hispanic” counted for seven points, while obesity got you only one point—even though, according to the CDC, “obesity may triple the risk of hospitalization due to a COVID-19 infection.” Based on this scoring system, a 40-year-old Hispanic male in perfect health would receive priority over an obese, diabetic 40-year-old white woman with asthma and hypertension.
To emphasize race or ethnicity as a determining factor for risk assessment also raises the question of which race. Presumably, not all people of color are the same. Should all nonwhite people—Hispanic, Black, Arab, South Asian, East Asian, Indigenous—be lumped in together as part of some undifferentiated whole? To put a finer point on it, I am nonwhite. Should I be given priority for COVID treatments over a white person who is obese, asthmatic, and diabetic? That I happen to be nonwhite—an accident of birth—defines me in opposition to whiteness, but it says practically nothing about whether I’m at higher risk of hospitalization due to COVID.
Somehow, progressives have fallen under the sway of a set of ideas so off-putting that they threaten progressivism itself. Those of us who are not white are not just “nonwhite.” We are not interchangeable. We are not always and forever victims. We are individuals, first and foremost, not merely members of a group to be patronized by other people’s good intentions.