There’s a scenario in sports in which a team is struggling and the head coach is on the hot seat, but the team owner doesn’t want to have to fire the coach just yet. Maybe the coach will find a way to turn it around, the owner rationalizes. Of course the team owner knows this is a long shot. But he wants to buy a little more time, so he publicly gives the coach a “vote of confidence.”
There’s almost never an instance where the team owner gives the coach a vote of confidence and then doesn’t end up having to fire him anyway. In fact, those words are generally seen as the kiss of death, because it means the boss knows there’s a real problem. So what does it tell us that Donald Trump publicly expressed “total confidence” (source) in Attorney General Bill Barr today?
Well, for one thing, it doesn’t mean that Trump is about to fire Barr. Barr is by far Trump’s most effective remaining henchman, and Trump is really counting on the guy coming through for him. But the other side of the coin is that while Barr may be the best Trump has left, Barr is rapidly proving that he’s middling at best.
We all learned this week, as did Trump, that Barr’s supposed criminal pursuit of Trump nemesis Andrew McCabe was all a charade. Trump saw today that the judge in the Roger Stone case is moving ahead with sentencing instead of granting a new trial. Barr’s schemes are all about trying to make Trump believe that progress is being made, instead of actually delivering progress – and you have to figure that even an oblivious Trump is finally starting to see through that.
It would not be particularly logical for Donald Trump to fire his most effective remaining henchman, simply because the guy is a bumbler whose batting average keeps dropping. But Barr is becoming an increasing liability, in terms of the ugly scandals he keeps creating for Trump as he flubs his way through the kinds of schemes that are only effective if they don’t get a lot of attention.
Even though most of the sports world hates Donald Trump, he is familiar with how it works. He owned a USFL football team, before his bad decisions bankrupted the entire league. Trump knows full well that a public “vote of confidence” is the last thing an employee wants to hear from the boss, because it means the boss now has specific expectations for the employee turning things around in short order. It’s certainly not time for Barr to panic – but Trump’s remarks today should at least have him worried.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report