“How a ‘Committed Partisan Warrior’ Came to Rethink the Political Wars” (New Bob Bauer Book!)

Peter Baker on Bob Bauer and his new book, in the NYT:

Once, after he executed a particularly tough-minded legal attack on Republicans, Bob Bauer remembers, a conservative magazine called him an “evil genius.” He took it as a compliment. “I was very proud of that,” he said. “I thought, That’s cool.”

For decades, Democrats have turned to him as their lawyer to wage battles against the opposition. Reverse a House race they seemingly lost? Accuse the other side of criminal activity? Go to court to cut off Republican money flows? Find a legal justification for an ethically iffy strategy? Mr. Bauer was their man.

But now Mr. Bauer, the personal attorney for President Biden and previously the White House counsel for President Barack Obama, is looking back and rethinking all that. Maybe, he says, that win-at-all-costs approach to politics is not really conducive to a healthy, functioning democracy. Maybe, in taking the “genius” part to heart, he should have been more concerned about the “evil” part.

In a new book, “The Unraveling: Reflections on Politics Without Ethics and Democracy in Crisis,” to be published on Tuesday, Mr. Bauer takes stock of what he sees as the coarsening of American politics and examines the tension between ethical decisions and the “warrior mentality” that dominates the worlds of government and campaigns today. And in the process of thinking about what went wrong, Mr. Bauer, who calls himself a “committed partisan warrior,” has stopped to wrestle with his own role in the wars…..

r. Bauer has had a role in most of the significant political-legal wars of the last few decades, representing Democratic Party organizations and candidates, advising House and Senate Democratic leaders during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment battle and serving as Mr. Obama’s campaign lawyer and later White House counsel.

In the last few years, though, Mr. Bauer retired from his law firm, Perkins Coie, and increasingly turned his energies to finding ways to fix the system, working with Republicans like Benjamin Ginsberg and Jack L. Goldsmith. Among other projects, he advised lawmakers who revised the Electoral Count Act in 2022 to make clear that no vice president can single-handedly overturn an election, and he guided a bipartisan group that in April recommended changes to the Insurrection Act to limit presidents’ power to deploy troops to American streets.

Mr. Ginsberg, a longtime election lawyer who represented George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, among others, before breaking with the Republican Party over its support for Mr. Trump, said that Mr. Bauer was always “an ethical, principled guy” who managed to zealously represent his clients without crossing lines that should not be crossed.

“We’ve been battling each other for 40 years on stuff, and it’s always important, he knew, to fight fiercely for your candidate,” Mr. Ginsberg said. “But his concept of the rule of law is that the process works best if you have fierce partisans on each side but with an appreciation for the democratic process, institutions and norms.”

Bob’s new book is fabulous, and here is my blurb of it:

With wit, insight, self-awareness, and humility, Bob Bauer reflects on his life as a leading political lawyer, making an urgent plea for a renewed commitment to political ethics. A must-read warning about how our existential politics has led to norm collapse, and how to bring us back from the brink.

— Richard L. Hasen, Author of A Real Right to Vote and Election Meltdown

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