By Mark Sumner | 22 July 2022
At this point, it’s hard to believe that there was a period when people—serious members of punditry and politics—expected Donald Trump to moderate his positions and be a more “traditional Republican” once he took office. His first Cabinet selections poached Republican members of both the House and Senate who had been among Trump’s biggest critics before he secured the nomination. And there were all those generals—Michael Flynn, John Kelly, James Mattis, and H.R. McMaster—all of whom were supposed to lend his incoming crew some “gravitas.” Considering that it also included names like Ben Carson and Linda McMahon, some kind of counterbalance was definitely needed, but the word “seasoned” was thrown around regularly in describing Trump’s incoming team.
While all those pundits waited for the magic moment when Trump became “presidential,” the residents of all those Cabinet offices came and went. Over time, every one of those generals managed to either find themselves indicted or rub Trump the wrong way. McMaster didn’t make it a year. Kelly and Mattis were both gone by January 2019. They weren’t the only ones. With every change of butts in seats, Trump got closer to what he wanted: a crew that was complaint and incredibly loyal to Trump über alles.
All of them are spineless. https://t.co/YVyNjDwA7y
— The Lincoln Project (@ProjectLincoln) July 22, 2022
Trump was still making those changes right up until his last day, penciling in ever less reputable names for a parade of “acting” directors and secretaries who never bothered to stand for Senate approval. However, even the motliest crew still balked at getting fully behind Trump’s plan to be president for life, and behind them was a wall of nonpartisan long-term government employees who stubbornly refused to consider treason as part of their job description.
If Trump ever gets back in office, he has a detailed plan to make sure none of this is an issue.
Some of Trump’s plans for a post-2024 administration are simply an extension of how Trump behaved in the closing days of Pompeii, when he tried to put inexperienced and ever more unqualified people into the top slots on nothing more than a promise that they would go along with his scheme. But in some cases this didn’t work. Like when Trump tried to slot Jeffery Clark in as a last-minute attorney general, only to find that acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen (who was put in place after even William Barr refused to go along with the previous Trump scheme) wasn’t ready to roll over.
Perhaps more critically, Rosen was able to hold onto his spot because he was backed by the Department of Justice’s collection of deputy, associate, and deputy associate attorneys, none of whom were eager to hand the keys to an absolutely unqualified anti-environmental lawyer whose only goal was helping Trump overturn the election in exchange for an unwarranted promotion.
This is exactly the sort of thing Trump never wants to see again. And, as Axios reports, he has a plan to ensure that, should Trump get his feet back on the resolute desk, he’ll never be tested again by people concerned about fairness, or qualifications, or the law.
Trump 2025: The preparations are far more advanced and ambitious than previously reported.
The reporting for this series draws on extensive interviews over a period of more than three months on preparations for a potential second Trump term. https://t.co/x39E2Jg8nX
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) July 22, 2022
The core of that plan involves something called “Schedule F.” Of the federal government’s over 2.8 million employees, only about 4,000 are appointed. The rest are ordinary jobs—people who started with an agency in the equivalent of the mailroom and have worked their way up the tiers in positions that help farmers plan their crops, or evaluate plans for highway construction, or sift stock transactions for signs of insider trading, or any one of the tens of thousands of things that the government is responsible for handling.
With the exception of those politically appointed slots, most of these employees have at least the kind of protections that any worker anywhere might have when it comes to their job security. Many are union employees who have a solid set of benefits and security. And at the top of that collection of nonappointed positions are tens of thousands of roles in which the most experienced, most qualified employees play a direct role in implementing and even shaping policy.
Schedule F would turn all those people into a new class of political appointees, jerking away any form of job security.
Trump actually tried to put Schedule F into action before he was ousted by President Joe Biden, who promptly killed the idea. However, Schedule F is a cornerstone of Trump’s plans for a return to power. It would put almost all high-level federal employees in a position where they could be fired, individually or en masse, without even the pretense of a cause. Trump could then replace them without concerns about qualifications or capability, but with an absolute focus on filling the ranks of government entirely with those whose first and only loyalty is to Trump.
Considering the difficulty Trump had in staffing even the few positions in the Cabinet with people he found to toady sufficiently, it might seem a stretch to think he could find 50,000 or so people ready to fling a stiff-armed salute on command. But it shouldn’t be all that hard. Trump might not quite go from rally to rally telling his troops, “You get a government job, and you get a government job, and you get a government job …” On the other hand, he might.
"Republicans are scared to death that Donald Trump is going to declare [a 2024 presidential run] before November." @TaraSetmayer details exactly why Trump announcing a run would be disastrous for the GOP's chances in the midterms and beyond. pic.twitter.com/wZqLrHV6Fg
— The Lincoln Project (@ProjectLincoln) July 17, 2022
And expectations are that he didn’t really need to fire and replace a full 50,000. Once a few hundred people are dragged away for trying to honestly do their jobs, Trump figures the rest will get on board with the plan.
However, if it becomes necessary to simply turn off the lights and show all the employees to the door, Trump has a plan for how to handle the continued day-to-day operations of the government. He would outsource it, turning either restaffing or operations over to a collection of conservative groups under the control of trusted Trump lieutenants like Russ Vought, Stephen Miller, and, of course, Jeffery Clark.
The idea of Trump retaking the White House is such a horror that it may be difficult to consider the shape of things that would follow, but Axios’ extensive article has a thorough look at how the world of Republican think tanks, institutes, and foundations is reshaping itself around Trump and his vision. Trump is also maintaining his hooks inside Congress, counting on people like Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene to act as his eyes and ears inside Republican meetings.
It may seem impossible that Trump might make a terrifying return, but a whole lot of powerful people are betting on it.
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