Authoritarian Extremists Plotting A Second Trump Regime

Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump

The institutional right is laying the groundwork for a more authoritarian Republican administration if the party triumphs in next year’s presidential election.

The Heritage Foundation-led Project 2025 government-in-waiting operation features an effort to screen would-be staffers to create a “pre-vetted, pro-Trump army of up to 54,000 loyalists across government to rip off the restraints imposed on the previous 46 presidents,” Axios reported. If former President Donald Trump is returned to office, he would use that force to carry out his top priorities of arresting his political enemies, deporting millions of immigrants, purging the federal bureaucracy and military leadership, and generally turning the government into an extension of his will.

The effort would forestall the hiring of “conventional Republicans,” who Axios points out “often curtailed” Trump’s “behavior and power” during his term. In practice, this would mean that a second Trump administration would offload more authority and power onto the coterie of Fox News stars and fringe-right figures who surrounded Trump and served as his unofficial cabinet during his first, with dire potential consequences for the American public and the rule of law.

Trump’s obsession with Fox set the agenda during his tenure in the White House. Federal hirings and firings, government contracts, presidential pardons, legislative efforts, and communications strategy were all influenced by what the people on Trump’s television were telling him, on and off the air. Sycophantic cable news demagogues had the ear of the president and shaped Trump’s worldview and actions on issues as varied and critical as military action, immigration policy, and pandemic response.

But other government officials with stronger grips on morality and reality would often attempt to slow-walk or block Trump’s Fox-fueled fancies until he lost interest, as Axios noted. The Heritage screening process would filter out officials more loyal to the country and the Constitution than to the president, allowing the right-wing media extremists who hold Trump's attention to get their way as quickly as possible.

It's disconcerting to consider how aspects of his first term may have played out if such a mechanism had been in effect.

Trump routinely issued demands for the Justice Department to investigate his various political opponents, often in response to conspiracy-minded Fox coverage he was seeing about them. While Trump did succeed in partially corrupting its operations, DOJ leadership generally ignored those rants calling for probes when they were made in public and fended him off when he asked for them in private. When he did force through an investigation into one of those Fox-promoted fantasies, the Uranium One conspiracy theory, the result was a prosecutor slow-walking the probe for years before quietly shuttering it with no charges.

The Heritage plan, by ensuring that Justice Department appointees were personally loyal to Trump first, would effectively create a fast track from Fox segment to Trump tweet to federal criminal probe.

Fox coverage and the private counsel of prime-time host Laura Ingraham convinced Trump that the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine was a miracle cure for COVID-19. At the then-president’s demand, federal regulators issued an emergency use authorization for the drug and amassed a stockpile of 66 million doses, even as experts at the top levels of government pointed out there was no evidence it was effective. More pliant officials could have ensured the widespread adoption of drugs that didn't work at the height of the pandemic.

U.S. Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer spent months locked in a power struggle with Fox host Pete Hegseth over the fate of Eddie Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who had been accused of war crimes, eventually leading to Spencer’s removal. That fight would have been over in an instant if the Heritage plan had been in effect, with a compliant Navy secretary giving Trump whatever Hegseth wanted.

Trump’s inner circle has only become more extreme, and more willing to encourage his worst impulses, since he left office.

Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s podcast is “the media home” of Project 2025, my colleague John Knefel has written, regularly hosting architects of the project to normalize “deploying the military against protesters, weaponizing the Department of Justice against critics, and replacing the federal civil service with loyalist reactionaries.”

Donald Trump Jr. is also getting into the game by promoting potential hires for his father’s would-be administration. He’s floated giving the White House press secretary gig to Laura Loomer, a self-described “proud Islamophobe” who is “pro-white nationalism,” and turning the Justice Department over to Mike Davis, who has called for a “reign of terror” to imprison Trump’s critics, including myself and my colleagues.

Donald Trump is going on unhinged rants that evoke genocidaires and fascists, pledging to “root out” his opponents who “live like vermin within the confines of our Country.” And the right-wing political apparatus is busily assembling plans to turn that dark message into reality.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

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