If there is one word you wouldn’t associate with the administration of Donald Trump, it would be governing. Beyond a few key initiatives associated with his campaign priorities, Trump seemed to care little about what the federal government did or didn’t do. Throughout his administration, key appointed posts were left unfilled and his top executive-branch officials were often either MAGA bravos who viewed their own agencies as snake pits or career Republicans whose loyalties were suspect.
Now, however, there is a major effort under way by individuals and institutions with close ties to the former president to make sure the next Trump administration does not leave the federal government in the hands of its presumed enemies. According to Jonathan Swan of Axios, the chief vehicle for this takeover bid is an October 2020 Trump executive order that put a large category of federal employees under the new “Schedule F” designation. It would strip 50,000 mid-level appointees from civil-service protections and make them political appointees. This would include “civil servants who serve in roles deemed to have some influence over policy,” including “confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating” positions, per Axios.
Trump’s defeat in 2020 made Schedule F just an authoritarian glimmer in his eye; President Biden quickly rescinded the executive order. But the 45th president hasn’t forgotten it. He said at a March 2022 rally (with the usual hyperbole and lack of nuance): “We will pass critical reforms making every executive branch employee fireable by the president of the United States …. The deep state must and will be brought to heel.”
Assuming Trump returns to office and Schedule F passes legal muster, the big problem will be coming up with the 50,000 absolutely loyal bureaucratic warriors the “deep state” takeover plan would require. Swan reports that there is a massive and loosely coordinated initiative involving an array of organizations led by Trump allies, including Stephen Miller’s America First Legal; Jeffrey Clark and Russ Vought’s Center for Renewing America; Brooke Rollins’s America First Policy Institute; Mark Meadows and Jim DeMint’s Conservative Partnership Institute; and the venerable Heritage Foundation, now led by MAGA ally Kevin Roberts. Heritage, it should be noted, has been in the business of vetting personnel for Republican administrations dating back to 1980 and Ronald Reagan’s arrival in Washington. Some of the newer groups have very specific personnel foci, and they aren’t waiting for 2025, Swan reports:
CPI’s goal is to have at least 300 fully vetted “America First” staffers to supply GOP congressional offices after the midterms. These new staffers would theoretically gain valuable experience to use on Capitol Hill but also incubate for a Trump administration in 2025.
Given the revelations of the House Select Committee investigating January 6, Stephen Miller’s role in the 2025 plan is particularly alarming:
[Miller] has been identifying and assembling a list of lawyers who would be ready to fill the key general counsel jobs across government in a second-term Trump administration.
Trump’s close allies are intently focused on the recruitment of lawyers. Trump frequently complained that he did not have the “right” lawyers in the White House Counsel’s Office.
The “right” lawyers, in Trump’s view, would not have so resolutely opposed his efforts to send a mob to attack the U.S. Capitol on January 6.
The groups Swan writes about have a lot of overlapping leadership, and it does not appear at this point that there is any master plan for coming up with the cadres intended to fill those 50,000 Schedule F positions. Perhaps this is the best description of the overall effort: “All of this amounts to a giant crowdsourcing effort for 2025.”
Whether or not it entirely works, it’s likely that if Trump (or someone who shares the America First ideology) regains power in 2025, he will not simply regard federal agencies as enemy territory. He will turn them bright red.
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