The ambitious Republican plot to take it all down

Republicans have come to believe that the entire federal government is filled with woke liberals

By Heather Digby Parton


Published May 22, 2023 9:01AM (EDT)

Donald Trump looming over Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis and Tim Scott (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump looming over Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis and Tim Scott (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Picture it, if you will, it's January 21, 2025 and Donald Trump has just been inaugurated for his second term after the Biden interregnum. Yes, it would be a horrific time, not unlike those first horrible weeks in 2017 when over half the country struggled to grasp how it was possible that an ignorant, bombastic, game show host had eked out a win through an electoral college fluke. But those feelings of despair are where the similarities will end. The next Trump administration will be ready to hit the ground running with their leader's Retribution Agenda and it won't be because Trump is any more effective at presidential leadership. It will be because right-wing institutions will have spent their four years in the wilderness preparing for their chance to enact a radical overhaul of the federal government unlike anything we've ever seen in this country.

Even some members of the GOP establishment are getting nervous:

There was always talk of this among the original Trumpers, even though the president himself didn't have a clue what they were talking about. Recall former adviser Steve Bannon bellowing about the "deconstruction of the administrative state" and former Attorney General Bill Barr's assertions of unchecked executive power for example. As it happened, Trump was so far in over his head and ran such a chaotic, scandal-filled administration that they were unable to institute many systematic changes to test their theories but they came away with the knowledge that given another chance with a corrupt demagogue they could make changes to the system that could help them stay in power indefinitely.

Republicans have come to believe that the entire federal government is filled with woke liberals.

There has been a cascade of stories discussing the poor roll out of Trump's campaign and how he's still stuck in the repetitive groove of his grievances over the 2016 campaign and his loss in 2020. His appearance on CNN's generous kick-off campaign rally for him a couple of weeks ago reinforced that idea, as he repeated all his punch lines and the audience cheered and clapped ecstatically. It certainly left the impression that if Trump were to win the election next year we would be in for a repeat of his first term: turmoil, scandal and ineptitude in which the most terrifying consequence is that a crisis hits or someone makes a catastrophic error. Last time, you'll recall, we got hit with the first deadly global pandemic in a hundred years and Trump publicly told America to take unproven snake oil cures and instructed scientists to look into having people ingest disinfectants since they kill the virus on surfaces.

It was a disaster.

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Many people died and many more families were decimated but I fear that too many Americans may think that a rerun of the The Trump Show won't be a catastrophe since most of us survived his tenure. But it won't be a rerun. Since the day Trump left the White House for his exile at Mar-a-Lago, well-funded right-wing organizations have been planning the return to power with a fully developed agenda and plan to enact it. All they have to do is put the Sharpie in Trump's hand to sign what they put in front of him after which he can run out to the cameras and whine and complain about whomever is his target that day as his minions turn the executive branch into a full functioning partisan operation.

Last summer, Axios' Jonathan Swan wrote a long report on what they've been planning:

The impact could go well beyond typical conservative targets such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Internal Revenue Service. Trump allies are working on plans that would potentially strip layers at the Justice Department — including the FBI, and reaching into national security, intelligence, the State Department and the Pentagon, sources close to the former president say...The heart of the plan is derived from an executive order known as "Schedule F," developed and refined in secret over most of the second half of Trump's term and launched 13 days before the 2020 election.

Schedule F is an executive order which would reassign potentially tens of thousands of federal employees they determine to have policy influence so they would lose their civil service protections. Republicans have come to believe that the entire federal government is filled with woke liberals intent on depriving them of their natural right to rule without restraint.

The plan is being produced by a number of Republican groups and coordinated by some names with which you are no doubt familiar, like former Justice Department (DOJ) lawyer Jeffrey Clark, former Devin Nunes and Pentagon staffer Kash Patel, and former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows all of whom are caught up in Trump's legal messes as well. They plan to salt every department with GOP toadies from the military to the DOJ to the Department of Education to the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health. And conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation are drawing up lists of candidates. (That same right-wing institution similarly staffed the provisional government in Iraq with young neocons to disastrous results.)

The beauty of this plan is that it doesn't actually matter if Trump wins again. They can use it just as easily for another Republican. But it would be especially well-suited for Trump's principal rival Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Time Magazine's Molly Ball reported on DeSantis' desire to use every bit of executive power to achieve his goals:

"One of my first orders of business after getting elected was to have my transition team amass an exhaustive list of all the constitutional, statutory, and customary powers of the governor," he writes in The Courage to Be Free. "I wanted to be sure that I was using every lever available to advance our priorities." Aides from the time have corroborated this account, describing a thick binder of information that DeSantis proceeded to devour.

There's no need to reiterate all the ways in which he uses every lever and coerces the legislature to enact the most extreme agenda of any state in America and now promises to take it national. Should he win he will run with the Schedule F plan and probably come up with a few of his own. This is what defines him as a political leader.

In fact, from the sound of all the Republicans on the trail extolling the alleged "bombshell" that's actually a dud of the Durham Report as if it's some huge indictment of the "deep state" that has to be completely dismantled, it's obvious that this is going to be a Republican Party project, not a Trump project at all. They are all organizing themselves around blatant lies about elections, democracy, law and justice, health, foreign policy and national security and their partisan institutions are plotting to use those lies to remake the federal government.

It's an ambitious plan but with the courts on their side and a congressional majority, it's eminently doable. It's imperative that the American people do not let them attain power again as long as this is their agenda or there may be no going back. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Administrative State Commentary Donald Trump Jeffery Clark Kash Patel Ron Desantis Schedule F