Republicans’ agenda for a second Trump term is far more radical than the first | Andrew Gawthorpe

Rather than sideline federal agencies, Republicans want to seize control of them, purge civil servants and replace them with America First footsoldiers

The Republican party of today has a new attitude towards the power of government. The Reaganites who used to dominate the party mostly saw government as the problem: if only it could be cut back or eliminated entirely, free markets would deliver everything America needed. But a new report on plans being developed for Donald Trump’s possible return to the White House shows just how much this has changed. Rather than sidelining or eliminating federal agencies, Republicans now want to do something much more disturbing: seize effective control of them in order to persecute their enemies and implement a radical agenda.

At the core of the new plan, as reported by Axios, is the intention to strip away employment protections from thousands of senior civil servants, eliminating at a stroke a large chunk of the civil service’s expertise and institutional memory. This would allow them to be replaced with a “cadre” loyal to Trump’s America First agenda, most of them likely to be 20- and 30-somethings with no experience in government who would owe their newfound prominence to Trump alone. Ideologically zealous and loyal to a fault, they would set about trying to reshape the government in Trump’s image.

Whoever developed this plan certainly had a keen eye for Trump’s greatest weakness as president. He hollowed out some agencies, particularly the state department, by driving staff to leave. But ignorant of how government worked and too impulsive to stay focused on a long-term program of change, he had little success at actually forcing most agencies to implement his America First agenda. Often, it seemed like Trump considered his own government to be more useful to him as a political foil than as a tool in his hands. Trump appeared to have decided there was little point to trying to actually control the “deep state” when he could instead portray himself as its victim.

What seems to have changed in the interim is Trump’s desire for revenge. According to the Axios report, Trump’s top priority in a new administration will be to “clean house” in the intelligence community, DoJ and FBI. Loyalists will be installed in the place of current leadership. Why these places? The standard conservative critique of the civil service is that everyone in it is a liberal, but that certainly isn’t true of these agencies. Rather, they’re the places you need to corrupt if you’re bent on breaking the law and persecuting your opponents. Trump – notoriously thin-skinned, impulsive, and vengeful – wants to do just that.

But this isn’t just a problem limited to Trump. The conservative movement as a whole increasingly dreams of turning the state against its enemies. The people at the heart of the movement today are more likely to idolize the Hungarian autocrat Viktor Orbán than they are Ronald Reagan. They aren’t animated by the belief that the job of government is simply to get out of the way – instead, they want to use it to impose a radical agenda on American society. And the recent overturning of Roe v Wade provides a blueprint for how a compliant conservative judiciary can enable government officials to take away even the most fundamental of human rights.

What will be done with this power? Some of it is grimly predictable. With the Department of Justice finally under control, the next Republican president would be free to launch criminal inquiries into political opponents. The brutality of immigration enforcement would be sharply increased while environmental regulations would languish unenforced. Rightwing extremists would go unmolested while American Muslims had their rights abused. Corruption and venality would become rampant across the government as checks and balances were removed and inexperienced hacks had their first taste of power.

Given the scale of the federal government and the sheer weirdness of conservative politics, other consequences are hard to fathom. Be it vaccines, Disney movies, or whatever else is agitating the Fox News faithful, the government would be much more responsive to their views. At the same time, the things that actually matter – from nuclear safety to protecting the country from terrorist attacks – would go neglected. A civil service bent to the will of the modern conservative movement would not be a place that respected science, rationality, or legality. Precisely what might give under the weight of an attack on these principles is difficult to predict. But something definitely would.

Although Trump would bring his own particular set of grievances to the venture, any future Republican president is likely to follow a similar blueprint. Given the sheer scale of changes they want to impose on America, today’s conservatives act more like revolutionaries. And like all revolutionaries, they want to seize control of the state and launch an offensive on as many fronts as possible. If Trump’s first term isn’t to appear to future historians as a grim prelude to something far worse, they must never be allowed to do it.

  • Andrew Gawthorpe is a historian of the United States and host of the podcast America Explained


Andrew Gawthorpe

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
A second Trump term will be far more autocratic than the first. He’s telling us | Jan-Werner Müller
Trump is broadcasting his plans in advance – and, if elected, he’ll claim he has a mandate to accrue power and exact retribution

Jan-Werner Müller

04, Dec, 2023 @11:01 AM

Article image
Every indictment will make Trump stronger – and Republicans wilder | Sidney Blumenthal
Rupert Murdoch, the Koch network and other rightwing power brokers know the monster they created is now out of control

Sidney Blumenthal

04, Apr, 2023 @6:15 AM

Article image
Republicans think Trump is going soft on immigration. They will devour him | Lloyd Green
By cutting a deal with the Democrats on immigration, Trump is heading for the same trap that George HW Bush fell into: breaking his one big campaign promise

Lloyd Green

15, Sep, 2017 @1:23 PM

Article image
Republicans are finally realising Trump is his own worst enemy – and theirs | Richard Wolffe
The president’s increasingly risible attempts to paint himself as a victim are alienating even his most loyal supporters, says Guardian US columnist Richard Wolffe

Richard Wolffe

23, Oct, 2019 @1:10 PM

Article image
Donald Trump has a new fixer: House Republicans | Wajahat Ali
How long will the Republican party continue to do Donald Trump’s bidding?

Wajahat Ali

01, Mar, 2019 @1:47 PM

Article image
While Delta spreads, Republicans deflect and resort to Trump demagoguery | Robert Reich
The blame game must stop. The best way to contain deaths and hospitalizations from Covid is to get more Americans vaccinated

Robert Reich

08, Aug, 2021 @12:36 PM

Article image
Republicans will replace RBG but Democrats hold the trump cards – no, really | David Litt
Progressives should not worry about what would happen if they mimicked McConnell’s constitutional hardball. Their representatives need only act with a little less restraint

David Litt

23, Sep, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
Republicans did not just acquit Trump – they let themselves off too | Lawrence Douglas
Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz spread the big lie. Mitch McConnell fed the beast for years. Culpability spreads far and wide

Lawrence Douglas

14, Feb, 2021 @4:32 PM

Article image
Republicans have someone to blame for their disappointing result: Donald Trump | Lloyd Green
Trump hangs over the ballot box like a malignant ghost. He scares more than he draws and, for Biden and the Democrats, he’s a gift that keeps giving

Lloyd Green

09, Nov, 2022 @5:20 PM

Article image
Trump can do more damage than Nixon. His impeachment is imperative | Robert Reich
Watergate brought down a second-term president. If Trump survives and wins the White House again, all bets are off

Robert Reich

28, Sep, 2019 @5:00 AM