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If Trump faces Joe Biden in November and wins, Americans can expect sweeping moves at public institutions to put MAGA loyalists in power – and begin a radical right-wing makeover

If Donald Trump returns to the White House, he plans years of sweeping change.

He wants to fire swaths of civil servants and replace them with his political appointees. He aims to round up and deport millions of undocumented immigrants. He has floated using the Department of Justice to take down political opponents. He has threatened to encourage Russia to invade NATO members that don’t spend enough on defence. He is reportedly mulling further anti-abortion measures.

In contrast with Mr. Trump’s shambolic first term, during which he often failed to drive his agenda, he and his loyalists are taking steps to ensure that he can swiftly implement his policies if he gets back in. The Heritage Foundation think tank is even building a database of Trump acolytes who can be parachuted into government departments.

Despite unprecedented legal troubles – the first former president to be criminally indicted faces four trials, including for trying to overturn his 2020 election loss – he is virtually certain to win the Republican nomination.

Polling suggests he will triumph on Super Tuesday, March 5, when 16 states hold primaries. By the middle of the month, he could lock down an insurmountable majority of delegates.

A general-election rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden looks like a toss-up.

“We have it in our grasp,” Mr. Trump recently declared to an adoring crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference, “to make America richer and safer and stronger and prouder and more beautiful than ever before.”

To many Americans, Mr. Trump’s plans represent exactly that. To many others, they sound like a systematic version of the attack on the country’s democratic institutions that Mr. Trump’s supporters made on Jan. 6, 2021.

“It’s difficult to find any candidates anywhere in the world after World War Two who have been so open about their authoritarian plans,” said Steven Levitsky, a Harvard political scientist and co-author of the book How Democracies Die. “He had authoritarian instincts in his first term but no plan. This time, he’s read the playbook.”

Mr. Trump is promising an unprecedented transformation of the country.

Feb. 27 was voting day in Michigan, the last major state to hold a primary before Super Tuesday. While Michiganders cast ballots in Grosse Pointe Farms and anti-Trump signs stood on a front yard in Dearborn, Nikki Haley – Mr. Trump's last competitor for the GOP nomination – had moved on to campaign in Colorado, one of the states that vote on March 5. Paul Sancya/AP; Kevin Dietsch and Chet Strange/Getty Images

Executive control

The month before the 2020 election, Mr. Trump signed an executive order to reclassify up to 50,000 civil servants into a new employment category called Schedule F. The designation, which would have applied to people deemed to have influence over setting policy, was meant to remove their job security. It would have allowed Mr. Trump to either fire and replace them with his own chosen appointees or exert more pressure on them under threat of the axe.

Mr. Biden reversed the order when he took office: Mr. Trump promises to bring it back. In his view, Washington is controlled by a “deep state” of career government employees bent on thwarting him.

In a video on his campaign website, one of 46 such missives outlining his election platform, Mr. Trump promises to “very aggressively” purge “rogue bureaucrats.” The U.S. federal government already has a layer of about 4,000 political staffers who oversee two million career employees; Schedule F would expand the first category significantly. His ultimate goal, he said in one speech, is to “make every executive branch employee fireable by the president of the United States.”

The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union representing civil servants, argues that this move would concentrate more power in Mr. Trump’s hands by bringing in political appointees who might refuse to implement legislation as passed in favour of taking orders from the White House. It could also lead to incompetence, the union says.

Jacqueline Simon, the union’s policy director, pointed to a raft of government functions that rely on experienced staff, from Environmental Protection Agency enforcement of clean-air and water rules to Veterans Affairs delivery of health care.

“If you get hired based on who you know, not what you know, it undermines the entire agency,” she said. “There are a million things Donald Trump doesn’t want the federal government to do – environmental regulations, banking regulations – he wants the authority to ignore them or call them illegitimate.”

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Mr. Trump, then the president, holds a memorandum on tariffs against Chinese goods in 2018.Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Mr. Trump is deeply concerned about loyalty within his own administration and party, whom he accuses of thwarting or slowing down everything from his wall on the Mexican border to trade tariffs during his first term.

To that end, the Heritage Foundation is compiling a database of loyalists for potential appointments in a future administration. The application process focuses on assessing would-be officials’ ideologies, with questions about the political philosophy they espouse and the books that have influenced them.

The presidential personnel database is part of Project 2025, a broader effort by Heritage and a host of affiliated groups. It also includes policy papers, training sessions for future political staffers, and a “180-day playbook” for taking control of government departments. Officially, Project 2025 is not backing a presidential candidate. But its staffers and affiliate groups include a long list of Mr. Trump’s lieutenants, such as immigration-policy architect Stephen Miller.

Other Trump alumni groups are also drafting transition plans. These include the America First Policy Institute – run by former White House staffers Brooke Rollins and James Sherk, a Canadian-American who created the original Schedule F – and the Center for Renewing America.

Heritage turned down a request from The Globe and Mail to interview Paul Dans, the head of Project 2025. Neither of the other outside groups nor Mr. Trump’s campaign responded to requests for comment.

Another part of Mr. Trump’s plan is to put regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission, directly under his control.

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Protesters brand Mr. Trump a traitor in Washington on Feb. 8, when the Supreme Court weighed whether he can run for the presidency again. Some states are trying to disqualify Mr. Trump because of the Capitol attack of Jan. 6, 2021, which they argue was an insurrection that makes him unfit for office.ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images

Since Mr. Trump left the White House, prosecutors have come after him for a range of alleged misdeeds, such as hoarding boxes of documents – including classified ones – at his Florida mansion. Justice Department via AP
In New York state, Mr. Trump was recently ordered to pay US$354.9-million for duping investors. He accuses the prosecutor behind the civil fraud case of a political ‘witch hunt.’ Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

The Department of Justice

The former president has long insisted that the country’s prosecutors, police and intelligence agents are out to get him. Now, he is vowing to purge them. “We will clean out all the corrupt actors in our national-security and intelligence apparatus, and there are plenty of them,” he says in one video.

He has also suggested that he would use the Department of Justice to go after his political opponents. “If they follow through on this, yeah, it could certainly happen in reverse,” he said in a Univision interview last year about his criminal charges. “If I happen to be president and I see somebody who’s doing well and beating me very badly, I say, ‘Go down and indict them.’ “

In speeches, he has told supporters “I am your retribution” and vowed to appoint a special prosecutor to target the “Biden crime family.” He has also promised to pardon Jan. 6 rioters, whom he has described as “hostages.”

“We will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical-left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country,” Mr. Trump said at a rally last year.

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Trump loyalist Jeffrey Clark was once part of an effort to challenge Georgia's 2020 election process.Jose Luis Magana/The Associated Press

Ty Cobb, who represented the White House during the investigation into Russian election interference early in Mr. Trump’s presidency, pointed to an episode in 2020 in which Mr. Trump tried to install a lawyer named Jeffrey Clark as acting attorney-general. The plan was for Mr. Clark to then put pressure on the key swing state of Georgia to overturn Mr. Biden’s victory. Mr. Trump backed down amid a rebellion by senior Justice staff.

“He seriously considered swapping out his last acting attorney-general for a loyalist in order to complete the coup that he wanted to attempt. I think that’s indicative of how DOJ will be used by him in the next term,” Mr. Cobb said in an interview. “That’s the way every cabinet-level organization will be seen by him, that they’re there to do his bidding and not the people’s.”

Saikrishna Prakash, a constitutional expert in the University of Virginia’s law school, said that early U.S. presidents played a direct role in ordering prosecutions. John Adams, for instance, had his critics imprisoned under the Sedition Act.

Over time, a norm of judicial independence and the White House not interfering directly in prosecutions has developed. “The Department of Justice shouldn’t be an agency of vendettas personal or political,” he said.

On street crime, meanwhile, Mr. Trump vows a militaristic clampdown. He is campaigning on executing drug dealers, sending the National Guard into cities and empowering police to shoot shoplifters.

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Asylum seekers don blankets to guard against wind and rain near Jacumba Hot Springs, Calif., where they made camp after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Mr. Trump has doubled down on anti-migrant rhetoric as the number of crossings from Mexico has increased recently.Gregory Bull/The Associated Press

Mr. Trump’s rhetoric has found adherents in border states such as Texas, which he visited on Feb. 29 to tour the border with Governor Greg Abbott. Mr. Biden was also in Texas that day to meet border officials in Brownsville. Eric Gay/AP; Kevin Lamarque/Reuters


Building a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico was the foundational promise of Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign. This time around, it’s been joined by a raft of other promised measures for clamping down on migration.

If elected, he says he will have the millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. arrested, held in detention camps and ultimately deported; create new authorities for border guards to immediately expel people arriving at the border without giving them a chance to make an asylum claim; cut off government benefits for migrants in the U.S.; and end birthright citizenship for children of undocumented parents.

He has also vowed to expand his first-term policy banning people from a number of Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.

Mr. Trump’s standard stump speech includes evidence-free claims that other countries are emptying prisons and “insane asylums” to send the inmates to the U.S. border. Migrants, he says, are “poisoning the blood of our country,” rhetoric that echoes that of Adolf Hitler.

The current migrant crisis has helped fuel Mr. Trump’s signature issue. Customs and Border Patrol logged a record number of encounters at the Mexican border in December with more than 300,000. In a bid to keep the issue alive until the election, Mr. Trump pushed congressional Republicans to scuttle a deal with Mr. Biden that would have turned back migrants at the border.

On the campaign trail, his supporters regularly cite it as their top issue. They make no distinction between unauthorized migrants who evade border guards, ones who cross and immediately surrender to make an asylum claim, or those who come through official ports of entry. His most committed voters brand all of them as “illegals.”

“Right now, we probably have terrorists and child kidnappers coming across that border. Nobody knows. And they’re being dispersed throughout the United States,” said Kim O’Brien, 58, a retired police officer, as she queued outside a Trump rally in Concord, N.H., ahead of that state’s January primary.

Research shows that immigrants, undocumented or otherwise, are not more likely to commit violent crimes than native-born Americans.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks alongside Joe Biden at the White House in December, when he met U.S. leaders to argue for more military aid in Ukraine's war with Russia.Alex Wong/Getty Images

Foreign policy

Mr. Trump’s brand of nationalism may start at the U.S. border but it goes far beyond, touching everything from global security to commerce to the climate.

Campaigning last month in South Carolina, he recounted a conversation with the president of an unnamed U.S. ally. That leader, Mr. Trump said, once asked if the U.S. would protect the country from a Russian attack if the country failed to meet its NATO target of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence.

“No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want,” Mr. Trump said.

He has also said that he would end the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 24 hours if elected, which would likely entail having Kyiv make major concessions to Moscow.

John Bolton, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, has written that Mr. Trump almost pulled the U.S. out of NATO during a summit in Brussels in 2018. He would follow through on such an act if he wins a second term, Mr. Bolton predicts.

The former president also aims to go further on trade protectionism than in his first term, imposing a 10-per-cent tariff on all goods coming into the U.S. Such a move would break the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and other free-trade deals, and likely trigger a global trade war.

Mr. Trump is expected to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate protocol and reverse Mr. Biden’s green policies, including subsidies for electric cars and clean electricity.

Jeremy Kinsman, a former Canadian ambassador to Russia and the European Union, said the world is “scared” of Mr. Trump returning to office. “He’s a complete disruptor. His playbook, you saw it in his first term, but it’s become much more volatile recently,” he said.

The former president’s desire to pull the U.S. back from international leadership is similar to the isolationism of the 1920s, Mr. Kinsman said, leaving Europe to deal with Russia on its own.

“The world will survive. I don’t know about institutions in the United States, and that is deeply troubling,” he said. “To some extent, they’ve been the motivating flame on the democracy side, flawed as their own democracy has been.”

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Jan. 19, the anniversary of the decision overturning Roe v. Wade, brought anti-abortion protesters to Washington, where they urged Republicans to support their cause. Mr. Biden has pressed Congress to reinstate Roe's protections through federal legislation.Mariam Zuhaib/The Associated Press

Social policy

In a Fox News town hall last month, Mr. Trump boasted about ending the U.S.’s protection for abortion rights through his appointment of conservative Supreme Court judges. For decades, “they were trying to get Roe v. Wade terminated and I did it and I’m proud to have done it,” he said. During the same interview, however, he argued that abortion policy requires “concessions.”

In contrast with his explicit promises on other major issues, Mr. Trump has been deliberately vague about what he would do on abortion if re-elected, given broad popular support for the procedure.

Mr. Trump has not ruled out backing a national ban or using executive authority to restrict access to the drugs used for medication abortions. One route would be to ban the shipment of the drugs. Another would be to have the FDA reverse the drugs’ approval.

Mr. Trump has been more overt on other social-policy areas. He advocates rounding up homeless people in U.S. cities and putting them in government camps. Those with mental health issues, he says, should be put into “mental institutions.”

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Trump supporters cheer after singing the U.S. national anthem at CPAC. Republicans who oppose or are skeptical of Trump have increasingly little room in the party as his loyalists take control of critical roles.Jose Luis Magana/The Associated Press

The MAGA party

Even as Mr. Trump has steamrolled opponents in the primary race, despite spending much of the campaign in two New York civil trials, he has consolidated control of his party’s apparatus. This month, the Republican National Committee’s leadership will be replaced by Mr. Trump’s daughter-in-law and a senior campaign official.

Senate leader Mitch McConnell, who backs military aid for Ukraine and repeatedly drew the former president’s ire, announced last week that he will step down in November.

To Mr. Cobb, who spent 10 months in Mr. Trump’s administration, this drive for loyalty will mean an impossibility attracting governing talent if he returns to power.

“Almost everything he does threatens democracy,” he told The Globe. “We’re in for some very serious consequences in terms of how much more selfishly he will run the country.”

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