The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Democrats have done Republicans a huge favor

Congressional Democrats called for the resignation of Attorney General William P. Barr on May 1. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

After the release of the report written by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, Democrats had two options: They could either attempt to inflate the narrative of obstruction of justice that the special counsel hinted at but did not act upon (there was no resuscitating the “collusion” narrative, which is dead and buried), or they could attack the messenger who transmitted the report that so deeply disappointed them: Attorney General William P. Barr.

They chose the latter course, and blundered terribly in doing so.

The Democrats’ front-line troops in the assault on Barr were as doomed as the Dothraki charge that opened “Game of Thrones’ ” Battle for Winterfell. Most of the Democrats from the Senate Judiciary Committee are walking around with rake marks on their foreheads after stepping on them during their hearing with Barr on Wednesday.

The whole premise of their criticism — that Barr somehow mishandled the release of the Mueller report, based on his March 24 bare-bones summary, which he offered Mueller the chance to review (an offer Mueller declined) — was so absurd that it collapsed under ridicule for anyone not hypnotized by #Resistance TV. Hysteria is a bad look. Democrats wore it better than their media boosters, but they still wore it poorly.

Barr’s critics have made much of the letter Mueller sent to him complaining about press coverage following the release of the summary, but Mueller’s complaint wasn’t about disfiguring the report’s findings or rejecting its conclusion. It was a surprising bit of kvetching from a team of wildcatters that came up dry after digging hundreds of holes and then complained about the weather.

In attacking Barr, Democrats hurt themselves. Not only did they appear desperate after their “bet everything on Mueller” wager went bust, but they proceeded to cement the alliance between President Trump and establishment Republicans in a way that had not occurred before.

If Article II’s Bill Barr has a counterpart in standing and personality, it is Article I’s Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Together, the two might be known as the “Cocaine Cartel” — making use of McConnell’s “Cocaine Mitch” nickname, originally an opponent’s insult from but now fully adopted by the majority leader’s admirers. Or perhaps we can call them “the twin crocodiles.” As the old Peter Pan song warns, “Never smile at a crocodile.” Don’t mess with them or try to trick them — and definitely don’t trash their hard-won reputations.

Barr and McConnell are the essence of the Constitution-first, long-game GOP. They come from the same part of the party that has maintained an uneasy coalition with Trump since his upset victory. The attorney general is widely respected on the center-right as a scholar and principled man: brilliant, unflappable and purposeful. So, too, does he boast support from those who trusted Mueller to find no collusion where none existed: the Beltway establishment GOP.

In trashing Barr — just as they trashed now-Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh — Democrats have run up their colors, unfurling their pirate flag. It isn’t about opposing Trump; it’s about destroying anyone who opposes their ideas.

The first three times in the past 30 years that Democrats used such tactics of personal destruction — with Judge Robert H. Bork, now-Justice Clarence Thomas and independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr — each episode was separated by a few years, not months. The back-to-back smearing of two widely admired conservative lawyers now makes so clear that what Democrats fear most is competent, careful and fearless rule-of-law conservatives.

McConnell is used to the smears and the hysteria, but establishment Republicans are now becoming “woke” to the reality of American politics for the foreseeable future. The first enlightenment came during the Kavanaugh hearings. The second was the sliming of Barr. Both episodes make clear: There’s Team R, and there is Team D. There isn’t a third choice, and there isn’t a sideline. By trying to savage Barr, the Democrats welded the unwieldy coalition between the party of George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney and the party of Trump into a united front.

Lots of establishment Republicans were already warming to Trump because of his judicial nominations and his military budgets, and more than a few have become impressed by his in-the-tench fight for long-ignored constituencies such as the union employees in Lordstown, Ohio, who recently lost their jobs at a GM plant, despite the company making off with $50 billion in taxpayer bailout money, crushing their bondholders in the process.

Now if Trump successfully assists in the liberation of Venezuela — the opposite of President Barack Obama’s abandonment of the pro-democracy forces in Iran in 2009 — the alliance will become as strong as it ever has been, soldered by a seriousness toward national security and historic levels of employment.

Democrats helped make this happen in their unsuccessful attempt to tar and feather one of the most respected establishment legal scholars of the past generation. Not only did they miss, but they also exposed the sea change that has taken place in the Democratic Party. The GOP isn’t up against Joe Biden’s Democrats of 1988. Joe Biden himself has changed, as has the political battle.

Even if you never could bring yourself to bet on Trump, bet on McConnell and Barr. Neither man shows much anger, ever. But resolve is now everywhere evident.

Read more:

Ed Rogers: Did Nancy Pelosi just jump the shark?

Christine Emba: William Barr’s master class in word-splitting

Michael Gerson: In Barr, Trump has found someone who licks his boots out of principle

The Post’s View: William Barr torched his reputation. His testimony compounded the damage.

Henry Olsen: If the economy keeps its momentum, 2020 will be Trump’s to lose