Barr Bridges the Reagan Revolution and Trump on Executive Power

Barr Bridges the Reagan Revolution and Trump on Executive Power

In the report, which I uncovered in the National Archives while researching a book, this unidentified official warned that short-term political contingencies were clouding the administration’s thinking about the long-term importance of maintaining congressional checks on executive power to limit government.

Frustrated by obstacles to their political agenda, some conservatives were now “inclined to make an exception to their usual respect for separation of powers and advocate a very strong president — primarily for the practical reason that an activist conservative currently sits in the White House, and they fear he may be the last,” the dissenter warned.

In light of that critique, one part of Mr. Barr’s his speech was striking. He claimed that conservatives endorsed actions and principles that would be “good for society over the long haul if this was done in all like circumstances,” while liberals used “any means necessary to gain momentary advantage in achieving their end, regardless of collateral consequences.”

Defending Mr. Trump from the accusation that he has “shredded” constitutional norms and undermined the rule of law, Mr. Barr also said liberals were instead the ones guilty of that. Rather than behaving like the “loyal opposition,” he said, they have acted like Mr. Trump is not the legitimate president and set out to sabotage his duly elected government.

And, in implicitly uniting his two themes, Mr. Barr invoked Mr. Trump’s ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority countries. Lower courts blocked the administration from enforcing its ban, ruling that it was motivated by unconstitutional religious animus. But last year, the Supreme Court let a watered-down version of the ban go into effect.

But in portraying that outcome as “vindication,” Mr. Barr did not mention that the Supreme Court ruling was 5 to 4. Mr. Gorsuch — whom Mr. Trump installed in the seat that Republicans, in an extraordinary exercise of constitutional hardball, would not let President Barack Obama fill in 2016 — provided the pivotal vote.

The result foreshadowed the prospect of many more such vindications for the worldview of movement conservatives like Mr. Barr in years to come.

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