Trump as “the chief law enforcement officer” is akin to putting the Houston Astros in charge of policing cheating in Major League Baseball.
It should worry Democrats that as the dangers posed by four more years of Trump (and two more years of a supine GOP Senate) become clearer, their presidential race may be coming down to a choice between a billionaire and a democratic socialist. “ ’Tis the final conflict,” as “The Internationale,” the old anthem of the left, put it. It’s hard to imagine a confrontation more likely to shatter the party.
Everything that Mike Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders say about each other will play into the hands of the king of divide-and-conquer. Trump will use their fight to split off one part of the Democratic coalition, or the other. No wonder the president is acting as if he has absolute power.
Consider his 11 pardons, clemencies and commutations on Tuesday. The writers of our Constitution tried to guard against potential overreach by presidents, but they never reckoned with the possibility that someone such as Trump would lead our government. So they gave the president unlimited pardon power.
Naturally, Trump is abusing it.
Just to name three of those who received Trump’s mercy: He commuted the sentence of Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, convicted of trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat when Obama resigned after his 2008 election as president. Trump pardoned Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers, convicted in connection with an illegal payment for a casino license. And then there was the pardon for Bernard Kerik, who served as New York City police commissioner when Rudy Giuliani was mayor, jailed for tax fraud and false statements.
It is by no means far-fetched to think about these actions as Trump’s way of softening us all up for pardons-to-come to those who have directly served his interests, including Roger Stone, Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. As Post blogger Paul Waldman noted, “what Trump is really after is the normalization of corruption.”
Then came word to The Post from Attorney General William P. Barr’s circle that “he is considering quitting over Trump’s tweets about Justice Department investigations.”
Maybe Barr will shock us and resign at some point. But his servility to Trump up to now — from his radical public distortion of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report to his intervention, against the wishes of prosecutors, to reduce the sentencing request in Stone’s case — makes the claim about his distress look like an exercise in public relations. The attorney general seems quite happy to serve Trump’s interests by bending the Justice Department to the president’s will. He just doesn’t want his exertions advertised on Twitter.
“He has his limits,” a Barr associate told The Post about the attorney general. It would be lovely to learn exactly what they are.
In the meantime, the Democratic presidential candidates turn inward. Yes, much of this is inevitable in a primary. Each of these candidates thinks she or he would make the best president and the best opponent to Trump. They’ll do what they have to do to prevail. And better that each of them be vetted thoroughly now rather than have the party discover a nominee’s fatal flaw only after it’s too late. Bloomberg, for example, showed Wednesday night that all the ad spending in the world doesn’t make you ready for prime time — or to take on Trump.
But this is not a normal time. We have seen too many cases in history when authoritarian leaders triumphed because their opponents were so focused on adversaries within their own camp that they lost track of the larger struggle to preserve democracy and free government.
Thus a modest suggestion: Can these Democratic candidates start competing over who is best positioned to bring together the majority of Americans who disapprove of how Trump is running things? Can they try to prove it by reaching out now to constituencies not part of their own natural base — and by taming the furies within their own factions? Can they look at the smirk on Trump’s face and realize the damage they’ll do our nation if they just pretend that this primary is like every other?