Trump touts authoritarian vision for second term
Mandatory stop-and-frisk. Deploying the military to fight street crime, break up gangs and deport immigrants. Purging the federal workforce and charging leakers.
Former president Donald Trump has steadily begun outlining his vision for a second-term agenda, focusing on unfinished business from his time in the White House and an expansive vision for how he would wield federal power. In online videos and stump speeches, Trump is pledging to pick up where his first term left off and push even further.
Where he earlier changed border policies to reduce refugees and people seeking asylum, he's now promising to conduct an unprecedented deportation operation. Where he previously moved to make it easier to fire federal workers, he's now proposing a new civil service exam. After urging state and local officials to take harsher measures on crime and homelessness, Trump says he is now determined to take more direct federal action.
"In 2016, I declared I am your voice," Trump said in a speech last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference and repeated at his first 2024 campaign rally in Waco a few weeks later. "Today, I add: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution."
Trump's emerging platform marks a sharp departure from traditional conservative orthodoxy emphasizing small government, which was famously summed up in Ronald Reagan's first inaugural address: "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." Trump, by contrast, is proposing to apply government power, centralized under his authority, toward a vast range of issues that have long remained outside the scope of federal control.
Experts called some of Trump's ideas impractical, reckless, self-defeating, potentially illegal and even dangerous. Some of Trump's specific proposals are admittedly underdeveloped, such as a plan for building futuristic cities from scratch on unused federal land, which has been compared to projects in repressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia.
But Trump has a track record of floating ideas that stoke widespread outrage or confusion, then roiling government and legal institutions to realize them, such as banning citizens of several majority-Muslim countries from coming to the United States and imposing trade barriers. Trump is currently facing federal and local criminal investigations arising from his unsuccessful efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat, which ultimately inspired a deadly riot by his supporters at the U.S. Capitol.
"As with so many things Trump, it'll be sticky to sort out where what he's proposing is literally unlawful, which some things would be, and where what he's proposing would fly in the face of well-established and deeply principled norms," said Steve Vladeck, an expert on constitutional and national security law at the University of Texas at Austin.
Trump campaign advisers said the former president will continue rolling out new policy ideas, with the goal of being upfront with voters about his agenda and letting them vote based on policy, similar to how he released a list of his potential Supreme Court nominees during the 2016 campaign. They identified Trump's top priority as public safety and law enforcement, while stressing a commitment to collaborating with state authorities and working within the law.
"Together, we are going to finish what we started," Trump said at the Waco rally last month. "With you at my side, we will totally obliterate the deep state, we will banish the warmongers from our government, we will drive out the globalists, and we will cast out the communists and Marxists, we will throw off the corrupt political class, we will beat the Democrats, we will rout the fake news media, we will stand up to the RINOs, and we will defeat Joe Biden and every single Democrat."
Supporters have cheered Trump's continued turn away from longtime conservative orthodoxy, such as free trade and foreign interventions, and credited him for ushering in larger shift in the party. In articulating a vision of a more coercive right-wing government, Trump is finding common ground with his leading rival for the 2024 Republican nomination, Ron DeSantis. The Florida governor has laid out his own doctrine of asserting more government power, exemplified by his flagship bills restricting classroom instruction of diversity, gender and sexual orientation; his moves to punish Disney for opposing him; and his suspension of a Democratic prosecutor.
The shared positioning on executive power by Trump and DeSantis, who lead early primary polls, underscores how much Trump has reshaped the Republican base in the mold of his "Make America Great Again" movement.
"The Reagan limited-government conservatism and emphasis on federalism is being displaced by a new muscular, nationalizing cultural conservatism, with a lot of anger," said Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution who studies democracy. "One thing we've learned about Trump and authoritarian populists like him is not to dismiss what they're saying as just idle language and toothless roar. We need to take it very seriously."
The rise of a more activist view of right-wing governance has sparked a wider debate within the conservative movement. Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, another potential presidential aspirant, has criticized Trump and DeSantis as not conservative.
"The reality is we have to meet the government where it is presently," said Paul Dans, director of the Heritage Foundation's 2025 Presidential Transition Project, an effort by the conservative think tank and other conservative groups to develop policy proposals, personnel recommendations, training and transition plans representing a consensus of the conservative movement. "That's really where the more activist leaning is coming from in this project, that we need skilled operators to start taking this battleship and pointing it in a new direction."
The Trump campaign's policy development is being led by Vince Haley, a former White House aide who previously worked for former House speaker Newt Gingrich. As the current Trump campaign's policy head, Haley has been coordinating with Heritage and partner organizations the Conservative Partnership Institute and the Center for Renewing America, as well as the America First Policy Institute and Stephen Miller's America First Legal, to consider policy ideas and potential personnel picks for an administration-in-waiting. One adviser likened the collaborative spirit to the weekly meetings of conservative minds convened by the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.
Heritage and partner groups, which are unveiling their full policy book at a conference outside Washington on Friday, say they're laying the groundwork for a future Republican president without picking sides and have been in discussions with DeSantis's team as well, led by policy aide Dustin Carmack. The Center for Renewing America is officially neutral; its president, former Trump budget director Russ Vought, has endorsed Trump, while senior fellow Ken Cuccinelli is leading a pro-DeSantis super PAC.
"I guarantee the stuff we're putting forward is not going to get thrown in the trash," said Vought, who contributed the transition project's chapter on exercising authority through the Executive Office of the President, akin to a playbook for a White House chief of staff. Some of Vought's ideas have found their way into Trump's proposals, such as a recent announcement on bringing independent agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission under White House supervision.
"There's a glove of power needed to beat back the administrative state or deep state," he said, "and if you're not willing to put your hand in that glove you will fail, regardless of how much credibility you have with the base."
On the campaign trail, Trump has acknowledged the advantage of having more allies to help him prepare to operate the vast expanses of the administration more immediately than after his surprise win in 2016.
"When I went there, I didn't know a lot of people; I had to rely on, in some cases, RINOs and others to give me some recommendations, but I know them all now," he said in Iowa last month, referring pejoratively to "Republicans in Name Only." "I know the good ones, I know the bad ones, I know the weak ones, I know the strong ones."
The new cities proposal consists of a national contest to charter up to 10 D.C.-sized metropolises on undeveloped federal land. Administration officials discussed the concept toward the end of Trump's term, but he did not campaign on it in 2020. Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner pushed the idea in White House meetings after it was initially brought up by Haley and another speechwriter on Miller's team, Ross Worthington, who is also now on the 2024 campaign, according to a person familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.
Trump has discussed the new "Freedom Cities" in utopian terms, with flying cars, manufacturing hubs and opportunities for homeownership, promising a "quantum leap in the American standard of living." The campaign has provided few details on how the plan would work in practice.
Trump acknowledged that the idea needed more work over a Sunday dinner in mid-March, according to economic adviser Stephen Moore. "He said, 'I'm still trying to figure out how it's going to work,' something like that,'" Moore recalled in an interview. "He said, 'How do you think we should make that work?' And I'm going to help him with the idea."
Moore said the cities could be designed in part by offering tax incentives and creating a "super police force that keeps the place safe," reflecting GOP allegations that Democratic-run cities are awash with crime. It's not clear how that will prove more attractive than similar measures already enacted by GOP governors. Even some of Trump's allies have been skeptical of the plan.
"I hate this thing," one outside economic adviser to Trump said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations with campaign officials. "The economic problems facing the nations are so severe, and we're going to talk make-believe about 'building new cities'?"
Experts stress that cities have historically grown around natural centers of economic activity rather than state edict. "You can't just wave a wand and have cities come into being," said Rick McGahey, an economist at the New School who specializes in urban growth. "This is not where cities come from. The concept does not work."
Some observers say the idea more closely resembles libertarian fantasies, such as that produced by a think tank funded by tech billionaire Peter Thiel, of new private communities run on cryptocurrency. Others found it reminiscent of projects to build centrally controlled cities from scratch in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Trump has routinely praised and defended authoritarian foreign leaders such as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Some Trump allies give him credit for what they see as a bold new idea. One campaign adviser compared the proposal's ambition to the "Opportunity Zones" economic incentives in Trump's 2017 tax legislation, scaled up to emulate historic Republican achievements such as Abraham Lincoln's Homestead Act and Dwight D. Eisenhower's Interstate Highway System.
"There is this broad recognition that we don't build enough things in America and that, you know, obviously, we have great American cities, but we haven't really built a new model city," said Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), who has endorsed Trump's presidential bid. "There are a lot of other countries that are trying different approaches out, and I think it's fine for us to think about doing that here, too."
Trump has specified that he wants to define architectural standards in existing cities as well, insisting on classical-style buildings, monuments to "true American heroes," and schools and streets named "not after communists but patriots." He has also proposed forcibly removing homeless people to outlying tent cities, wading into an area usually left to local governments and relying on unclear federal authority.
"Violators of these bans will be arrested, but they will be given the option to accept treatment and services if they are willing to be rehabilitated," Trump said in a recent campaign video.
Similarly, Trump has suggested a stronger federal role in education, a matter that conservatives have traditionally advocated keeping under local control. He has proposed letting all parents use state funds to send their children to the school of their choice, similar to Republican-led legislation in Arizona, Iowa and Utah. Critics say the arrangement hollows out public education.
Trump called for a school choice program during the 2016 campaign but didn't push it when Republicans controlled Congress, and a proposal by his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, for "Education Freedom Scholarships" went nowhere. A second Trump administration could expand school choice through budget reconciliation (requiring a simple majority in the Senate) by offering tax credits for tuition, according to Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute.
But a direct federal voucher program would entail increasing federal outlays on K-12 education. Trying to require school choice as a condition of districts' receiving federal funding probably would face a court challenge, Hess aid.
Trump also proposed holding direct elections for parents to hire and fire school principals. Hess said that proposal lacks clear federal authority and raised a range of questions, such as who the candidates would be, whether they would be partisan, and who would set the qualifications and terms.
"This is not a real solution," Houman Harouni, a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said of Trump's proposals. "It has to do with communicating to a portion of his base that they are going to have the religious or nationalist or exclusive education that they would like."
Trump said he would reestablish a presidential commission to promote a "patriotic" curriculum that rejects scholarship on systemic racism. His "1776 Commission," which did not include any professional historians, released a report at the end of his presidency that demonized institutions such as federal agencies and universities.
"What Trump is trying to resurrect is something that was thoroughly discredited by the professional historical community in a totally apolitical context," said James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association. "There's lots of places to look and see what happens when history education gets stripped of its professional integrity in the interest of a political party."
In another form of enforcing loyalty and suppressing dissent, Trump has proposed making it easier to fire federal workers, cracking down on media leaks, and establishing a "truth and reconciliation commission" to publish records on alleged abuses by spy agencies. He said he will require all federal employees to pass a new civil service test covering due-process rights, free speech, religious liberties, and Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
"This is how I will shatter the deep state and restore government that is controlled by the people and for the people," Trump said in a campaign video. In another, he elaborated, "We need to clean house of all of the warmongers and America-Last globalists in the deep state, the Pentagon, the State Department and the national security industrial complex."
Some of Trump's proposals for overhauling the merit-based civil service would require congressional action. The result could be to undermine the ability of professional public servants to reliably deliver government services without political interference, warned Max Stier, chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan nonprofit that supports federal workforce development.
"He is proposing changes that would create the world that he is objecting to," Stier said. "It does have real-time consequences in terms of undermining public trust in our government. That's a real problem because trust in government is a core part of our democracy."
Trump drew widespread criticism as president, especially during the demonstrations against the murder of George Floyd in 2020, for advocating harsh treatment of protesters, clearing peaceful demonstrators outside the White House, and deploying unmarked federal agents in Washington and Portland, Ore. Since leaving office, Trump has said he regrets not going even further to deploy military power domestically and wouldn't hesitate to do so if he returns to the White House.
"In cities where there has been a complete breakdown of public safety, I will send in federal assets, including the National Guard, until law and order is restored," Trump said at CPAC. "We will use all necessary state, local, federal and military resources to carry out the largest domestic deportation operation in American history."
In campaign videos and messages, Trump has specifically proposed requiring police departments to use stop-and-frisk, a tactic that has been widely criticized for discriminating against people of color and that a federal judge in New York found to violate the Constitution's prohibition on unreasonable searches. Trump also said he would order the Justice Department to investigate charging decisions by local prosecutors, challenging the constitutional division between federal and local authorities. He further proposed using federal law enforcement to dismantle gangs and execute drug dealers and human traffickers.
Trump doesn't envision a national police force, the campaign adviser said, and in practice his initiatives could be accomplished through federal funding or joint operations with state authorities.
The president has no legal authority over local police or prosecutors, and attempts to attach conditions to federal funding usually face litigation, according to Vladeck, the University of Texas law professor. There are legal limits on using the military for civilian law enforcement but allowances for acting in a support capacity that a Trump administration could try to exploit, Vladeck said.
"Republicans have tried to corner the market on claiming the federal government has been weaponized, but that's what this is," he added. "And the only way you can do that is by interjecting federal authority into matters that constitutionally or at least traditionally have been reserved to the states."
- - -
The Washington Post's Liz Goodwin and Ashley Parker contributed to this report.
Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.