Frogs Boiled: What Trump is Planning for a Second Term
Last night Democrats saw what happens when they run on the issues. When they run on who they are, instead of running away from it, they win.
Now Democrats need to take on an issue many would rather avoid: Donald Trump and the future of democracy if he’s re-elected. It may seem safer to stick to traditional kitchen table issues—don’t poke the bear—but it’s time to put the most important cards down on the table and have a serious conversation with the American people about what Donald Trump intends to do if he wins again. The writing on the wall is clear. But far too many people remain unaware of Trump’s 2025 plan, or they don’t take it seriously. People who love democracy need to make sure they do.
We all know the story about Ben Franklin emerging from the Constitutional Convention and telling a woman who asked what type of government they’d created, “a Republic, if you can keep it.” The 2024 election is the moment where we find out if we can. If Trump wins in 2024, we lose the Republic. That’s not drama, and that’s not overstatement. That’s what Trump is promising.
On Sunday the Washington Post ran an article about Trump’s plans for a second term that’s a must read. It’s not the first time there has been reporting on Trump’s plans for 2025 if he wins a second term, but this article goes the furthest in laying out Trump’s plans in clear reporting. It starts like this: “Trump and his allies have begun mapping out specific plans for using the federal government to punish critics and opponents should he win a second term, with the former president naming individuals he wants to investigate or prosecute and his associates drafting plans to potentially invoke the Insurrection Act on his first day in office to allow him to deploy the military against civil demonstrations.”
It sounds positively Stalinist. But, despite the cautionary tale of Trump’s first term in office, it garnered little attention. Here’s the article, with a gift link. But read on before you click.
The most frightening thing about this, to my mind, is that it’s not new. People simply aren’t paying attention. In October of 2020, before the last election, Trump was already taking steps in this direction. Trump signed an executive order making a change in civil service rules that made it possible to fire employees in policy positions “at will”—for no reason at all. Civil Service regulations are full of “schedules” for different types of personnel and classifications like “exempted service” that don’t mean much unless you’ve lived in the arcane world of federal employment. That made it difficult to understand what the executive order was about. More importantly, it was just too far in the weeds to resonate with folks at that time, when everyone was focused on more important matters like the upcoming election. But the order was characterized by people in the knows as a “‘stunning’” attempt to politicize the civil service and undermine more than a century of laws aimed at preventing corruption and cronyism in the federal government.” It was the logical outcome of Trump’s obsession with a “deep state” that he believed was out to get him.
The point of having a protected cadre of career civil service employees is to preserve expertise within government. But Trump’s executive order meant that any government employee involved in policymaking could be placed into a new Schedule F classification, a classification which left them vulnerable to evaluation based on their politics not their performance, and to dismissal for any reason. Not to put too fine of a point on it, but coming this late in the administration, the order could only be read as an effort to make sure Trump, in his next term (which thankfully didn’t materialize), could swiftly dispose of career employees he believed weren’t loyal to him. The order undid the pesky civil service protections that made it impossible to fire FBI agents who were investigating him or government lawyers who insisted he play be the rules. It was a harbinger of what Trump’s plans for 2025 would look like.
One of the first steps Joe Biden took after being sworn in was to rescind Trump’s executive order.
By the summer of 2022, there was reporting that top Trump allies were working on plans to radically reshape the executive branch of the federal government if Trump won in 2024. Among other things, they were preparing for purges in the ranks of career federal civil servants and lining up Trump loyalists to replace them. A number of the people working on the project are now well known because of their connection to the work done by the January 6 committee and Trump’s criminal prosecutions: Mark Meadows, Jeff Clark, Peter Navarro and Kash Patel are just a few.
Project 2025 is the official name for the plan, which is reportedly being run out of the conservative Heritage Foundation. The basic idea is to seat executive branch power firmly in the hands of the president. Among the goals are defunding the Justice Department and dismantling the FBI, breaking up Homeland Security, and doing away with Education and Commerce. The president would take complete control of agencies that currently operate with a great deal of independence, like the the Federal Communications Commission—all the rules for television and internet that Trump has publicly objected to would be his to change. In many ways, the plan runs in parallel to efforts to demolish the “administrative nanny state” in the Supreme Court this term.
But the Washington Post’s story brings new details to bear.
Among the ideas Trump and his allies have floated, according to the article:
Have DOJ investigate former Trump administration officials and allies who have become critics of the former president
Prosecute DOJ and FBI officials
Appoint a special prosecutor to “go after” President Biden and his family, based on unsupported allegations of corruption that Trump’s allies in the House are already moving forward with
End the separation between the White House and DOJ that prevents presidents from using prosecutions as a tool for political advantage or personal revenge
Draft an executive order to permit the military to be deployed in the United States pursuant to the Insurrection Act. That would permit soldiers to be used against the protests that would be certain to break out if Trump were reelected—Jeffrey Clark, who is reported to be leading this work, was warned in the last days of the Trump administration by a deputy White House counsel that if Trump refused to leave office there would be “riots in every major city.” Clark replied, according to the Special Counsel’s indictment, “That’s why there’s an Insurrection Act.”
It’s the stuff of banana republics. It’s a menu for the end of democracy.
Trump’s campaign spokesman declined to respond to the Post’s story, saying only, “President Trump is focused on crushing his opponents in the primary election and then going on to beat Crooked Joe Biden,” and “President Trump has always stood for law and order, and protecting the Constitution.” It reminds me of what we’ve learned this week in New York Judge Arthur Engoron’s courtroom: if a witness refuses to answer a direct question, the judge is entitled to draw a negative inference from that failure and reach the conclusion the witness isn’t answering because the answer would be damaging to him.
Donald Trump plainly wants to end democracy. That’s not being alarmist, it’s just the truth. The results on Tuesday at the polls suggest that we are prepared to say no. Women really do want and expect to have a right to choose for themselves. They don’t want House Speaker Mike Johnson, or anyone else, making their most important decisions for them. Americans, it turns out, like our form of democracy—a Constitutional Republic. So far, it has endured despite Trump, but it’s essential for people to be aware of what he intends to do if reelected. He is a malignant threat to democracy, and that has to be taken seriously. The singular challenge of the next election will be keeping the Republic in the face of Trump’s plans to take hold of power in a way that suggests he will never relinquish it.
We’re in this together,