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Trump is back in the news in a YUGE way
But was he ever really out of it?
Donald Trump is back in the news again in a big way. Two stories broke earlier this week that are likely to have a serious impact on his chances in the 2024 presidential race. Neither is likely to affect the Republican primary though.
In the first story, the New York Times (no paywall at this link) pointed out Trump is openly campaigning on a plan to centralize and augment presidential authority. In the Times’ words, Mr. Trump wants “to alter the balance of power by increasing the president’s authority over every part of the federal government that now operates, by either law or tradition, with any measure of independence from political interference by the White House.”
The Trump campaign doesn’t seem to dispute the accusations. The article quotes John McEntee, a personal aide to Donald Trump until he was dismissed by John Kelly in 2018 due to gambling debts and an inability to obtain a security clearance, as saying, “The president’s plan should be to fundamentally reorient the federal government in a way that hasn’t been done since FDR’s New Deal.”
McEntee, who was rehired by Trump for the 2020 campaign, added, “Our current executive branch was conceived of by liberals for the purpose of promulgating liberal policies. There is no way to make the existing structure function in a conservative manner. It’s not enough to get the personnel right. What’s necessary is a complete system overhaul.”
How do the Trumpists want to overhaul the federal government? The Times cites four key areas that are being addressed by Trump and his allies in speeches, campaign documents, and websites. These include:
Bringing independent agencies like the Justice Department and FCC under direct presidential control
A return to “impounding” funds in which the president can refuse to spend money appropriated by Congress (sound familiar?)
Stripping civil service employees of job protections
Removing officials who are not loyal to Trump from the federal government
“What we’re trying to do is identify the pockets of independence and seize them,” said Russell Vought, head of the Office of Management and Budget from 2019 until the end of Trump’s term.
If that sounds horrifying to you, given what we know about Donald Trump’s penchant for abusing power, you’re not alone. Donald Trump is the last person who needs to be granted more executive authority.
Further, I have to ask myself, why would a political party want to give more power to the presidency when they believe that presidents of the other party are only a little short of being dictators already?
I can only think of three answers. One is that they are not thinking ahead. The second, more sinister and likely answer, given Mr. Trump’s history of attempting to throw out unfavorable election results, is that the MAGA Republicans don’t intend to relinquish power if they ever regain it. A third delusional possibility is that they think they will quickly become so beloved that voters will never fire them.
Some of the details of these plans are contained in a Heritage Foundation-inspired policy book called Project 2025, an attempt to prepare any eventual Republican nominee to govern in 2025. The Times also cites the Trump website and the Center for Renewing America, Russ Vought’s think tank that focuses on the issues of “Big Tech,” “Woke,” and “Election Integrity.”
A Daily Signal article from April largely confirms the Times’ claims with a “four-point game plan for a conservative president to dismantle the deep state that undermined Trump.” This list somewhat overlaps with the Times article:
'“Streamline the firing process”
“Curb union power”
“Market-based pay and improving efficiency” which notes that “Congress did not approve the Trump administration’s proposed consolidations” of duplicated federal effort
Schedule F refers to Trump’s attempt to create a new category of federal employee by Executive Order. Schedule F, which was rescinded by President Biden, would have made it easier to fire or transfer career federal employees.
Bringing federal agencies under presidential control and enhancing the president’s ability to fire government workers would have the effect of politicizing many parts of the federal government that are ostensibly nonpartisan today. For example, the president might be able to fire an attorney general who refused to investigate political opponents or deny broadcasting licenses to outlets that were unfriendly to the Administration.
Government employees should not be loyal to the president. At least that should not be their primary loyalty. Government workers should be loyal to the Constitution, the law, and the country above and beyond their loyalty to the chief executive.
To be fair, Project 2025 is not aimed exclusively at a second Trump Administration and the danger of presidential power depends a lot on who exercises that power. But if the past few years have taught us anything, it should be that our checks and balances need to be established and maintained with the worst-case scenario in mind.
The explanation from the right is that the strategy is about curbing the federal bureaucracy and the “deep state” rather than being a political power grab.
“The overall principle of this project is, you know, we've got to reassert political control over the government, reassert presidential control over the executive branch,” Spencer Chretien, Project 2025’s associate director, told Semafor.
I have sympathy for reining in bureaucracy, but I also have a healthy distrust of Donald Trump and the new Republican Party that he heads. A great many of the conservative groups that are part of Project 2025 are groups that I know and used to respect, but a great many of them also sullied their reputations during the Trump years with their rationalizations and defenses (or even applause) of his abuses of power.
Whatever the problems that we have with the executive branch bureaucracies, giving Donald Trump more power is a vastly more serious threat to our republic. And with the recent history of the Republican Party and conservative groups in mind, I have approximately zero faith that they would stand in Trump’s way if he decided to abuse his newfound authority.
To me, aside from potentially empowering a lawless president, there are a couple of drawbacks to the plan. One is that it is fundamentally unconservative to concentrate more power within the hands of any one man. The very idea of a powerful executive flies in the face of the Founders who wrote the Constitution after having just fought a war to throw off a king’s yoke.
And Semafor notes that Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy have accused Trump of not going far enough to root out disloyal (i.e. liberal or nonMAGA) government employees. The plan seems tailor-made for power-hungry presidents to consolidate control over large swaths of the government, and there seems to be no shortage of would-be kings.
For most of my life, conservatives have decried the concentration of increasing amounts of power in the presidency at the expense of Congress. Now, suddenly, as the Republican Party becomes more like a personality cult, the focus is becoming one of putting more power into the hands of the president.
As Michael Scott succinctly put it, “No. Don’t like that.”
The other problem is that it isn’t clear how much of this agenda would have to go through Congress rather than being imposed by Executive Order. If we’re talking about the president signing Executive Orders to unilaterally increase his own power, that seems very undemocratic (with a small “d”).
Again, I don’t like that.
And if the courts slapped down Trump’s executive actions, who believes that he would accept the decision? I can easily see Trump making a statement akin to “John Roberts has made his decision, now let him enforce it.” Donald Trump is a walking, talking constitutional crisis, and expanding the presidency on his watch would exacerbate the problem.
Some of the Republican plans may have merit, but before any overhaul of the executive branch is considered, the Republican Party first needs to kick its Trump addiction and prove to the country that it can be trusted.
On Tuesday, Donald Trump announced that he had received a letter from the Justice Department informing him that he was the target of an investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Per the reports, the letter from Special Counsel Jack Smith was received on Sunday and could signal an impending second federal indictment.
While I do believe that Trump clearly fomented the January 6 insurrection and tried to steal the election, exactly what to charge him with is something of a question. Incitement is a possibility but carries a high legal standard. Fraud, conspiracy to disrupt a federal proceeding, and obstruction of Congress are other potential charges. Some of these have been used to great effect against hundreds of January 6 rioters.
Another indictment might disrupt Donald Trump’s campaign plans, but it won’t dissuade Republicans from nominating him. Nominating Trump would be a supremely foolish move for many reasons, but the contrarians in the GOP would almost certainly circle the wagons and rally around The Former Guy for no other reason than to say FU to the federal establishment.
Likewise, Trump’s power grab won’t frighten off his supporters, the same people who consider Joe Biden to be a dictator. In fact, many would welcome making The Former Guy president for life. I’ve seen at least one sign that literally made that suggestion and Trump himself seems open to the idea.
If the bad news is that Donald Trump is planning a power grab during his second term, the good news is that he is unlikely to ever get a second term. The scary Republican rhetoric and Trump’s legal troubles make an election victory a steeply uphill battle for the unpopular and disgraced former president.
The red flags are flying and the warning signs are being posted. Donald Trump needs to lose once again and trumpism needs to be vanquished. If America ignores the warnings and elects him again, we’ll deserve the chaos and trouble that he brings.
For the good of the country - for the future of the country - we need to dodge that bullet.
SURGING STOCK MARKETS: The Dow set a 52-week high yesterday, closing at 34,951. While I don’t credit Bidenomics with the entire recovery of the stock market and the economy, I do give Biden credit for appointing Jerome Powell to the Fed and standing by his man. Powell’s tactic of raising interest rates to fight inflation was exactly the right prescription. The Trump supporters on my timeline talking about their 401(k)s are now strangely quiet.
The Dow’s record high is 36,952.65. That high-water mark also came during the Biden Administration on January 4, 2022.
MISSING ISRAELI ARTIFACTS: In yet another weird Trump story, Israel says that ancient artifacts sent to the US in 2019 that should have been returned after a brief exhibition somehow ended up at Mar-a-Lago. The items are reportedly still there, but it isn’t clear or if Trump has knowledge of the situation.
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