Former Trump-appointed Attorney General Bill Barr has received largely favorable press coverage during his current book tour, in which he has looked back on the moment he told defeated President Donald Trump that his claims of massive election theft were false. But in a new interview Thursday with Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum, Barr revealed what a mistake this positive media treatment has been.
As it turns out, Barr still supports all the usual misleading conservative talking points used to discredit mail-in voting. He just thinks Trump made a mistake in focusing on the “absurd” conspiracy theories about voting machines being rigged to change votes, “instead of focusing in and trying to get the evidence sufficient to overturn the election.”
Barr knows that the 2020 election wasn’t stolen by any mass fraud, acknowledging in his Fox interview that “there’s no evidence that that’s the case in the numbers sufficient to shift the election.” But he still insisted to MacCallum that the problem with mail-in voting is that “in a country that is as closely and intensely divided as we are,” it’s important not to make changes to the voting process in which “people are going to be suspicious of the outcome.”
MacCallum agreed that this environment of distrust was “very dangerous” because “both sides can accuse each other, or say that the election didn't matter, or it wasn’t accurate.”
Of course, only one side, Barr’s own Republican Party along with its right-wing media allies, has actually tried to convince the public that the election results in 2016 and 2020 weren’t accurate. Remember, Trump and his supporters attempted a coup rather than accept the outcome of the 2020 election — this is not a “both sides” issue.
The problem with this line of sophistry from MacCallum and Barr is that it is really just another form of the self-fulfilling arguments that Fox News itself peddled in the aftermath of the 2020 election, in which the network’s commentators attempted to justify their supposed "skepticism" about the election result on the grounds that Republican voters "feel like it was rigged." (The election was not rigged.) The reason so many Republican voters felt the results were invalid, however, was because Fox News kept telling them to feel that way.
Barr himself also did a lot of work in the run-up to the 2020 election to build that misconception. Throughout the year, he made a series of false accusations against mail-in voting, including that ballots could be manufactured in foreign countries, that bad actors could fill them out en masse, or that the secret ballot would be eliminated and voters would be subjected to coercion. Barr further sketched out a scenario that presaged the so-called "red mirage" and “blue shift” predicted by experts — in which Trump would appear to be ahead in votes cast on Election Day, before the more Democratic mail-in ballots were counted — but Barr instead claimed, “We don’t know where these freaking votes came from.” (MacCallum also defended some of Barr’s claims at the time.)
Public figures who have a major soapbox, like Barr and MacCallum, ought to have fulfilled their responsibility to explain to the public what was going on and why such accusations were false — not to keep feeding the paranoia, and then justify the accusations on the basis of the paranoia itself.