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Republicans following Trump, DeSantis on road to fascism

By Paul Blythe

The threat that Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis pose to democracy in the United States is real and becoming starker by the day.

That much we’ve known for a while, but the really bad news of late is that potentially any of the Republican presidential candidates in 2024, if elected, could be just as dangerous for the future of democratic government.

The New York Times reported last week (July 17) about how Trump, his campaign advisors and a network of conservative groups led by the Heritage Foundation are preparing policies and personnel lists to concentrate far more power directly in his hands by “increasing the president’s authority over every part of the federal government that now operates, by either law or tradition, with any measure of independence from political interference by the White House.”

In other words, as historian Heather Cox Richardson said in a July 18 essay giving the news story some context, The Times “outlined how former president Donald Trump and his allies are planning to create a dictatorship if voters return him to power.”

What’s more, Trump and his advisors aren’t even trying to hide their authoritarian plans. According to The Times, they are proclaiming in rallies and on his campaign website their intentions to:

  • Bring independent agencies such as the Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission under direct presidential control, eliminating current congressionally approved checks and balances that prevent the president from using the agencies to go after enemies or rewards supporters.

  • Revive the practice of “impounding funds,” which is a president’s refusal to spend money Congress has appropriated for the purpose that Congress intended it for. Congress banned, or at least severely regulated, that presidential practice with the Impoundment Control Act of 1974, but Trump did it anyway in his first (and only) term when he froze security assistance to Ukraine unless Ukrainian President Zelensky announced investigations into Trump’s political rival, Joe Biden, and his son.

  • Strip employment protections from career civil servants, which would make Trump’s partisan and revenge purges far easier.

As Richardson noted, “Trump’s desire to grab the mechanics of our government and become a dictator is not new; both scholars and journalists have called it out since the early years of his administration.”

DeSantis' imperial ambitions

Meanwhile, we at the North County Democratic Club have on several occasions previously pointed out DeSantis’ imperial ambitions as Florida governor through, among other things, his use of governmental power to repress and persecute political opponents, his manipulation of media for his own propaganda goals, and his administration’s extreme rightwing makeover of education in the state including everything from increased book banning in public schools to a crackdown on academic freedom in colleges.

But he made his authoritarian bent crystal clear in his presidential campaign announcement May 24 on a Twitter Spaces livestream better remembered for its technical glitches.

In the announcement, DeSantis laid out his presidential vision to out-Trump Trump by gutting the administrative state and grabbing more power for the chief executive.

“There’s a lot that the executive branch can do, and all I will say when it comes to these agencies [is] … buckle up when I get in there, because the status quo is not acceptable, and we are going to make sure that we reconstitutionalize this government,” he said.

DeSantis, who has consistently overstepped his powers as governor in Florida (for example, by forcing the Florida Senate to accept a congressional districts map in 2022 that was more partisan than the one the Senate had drawn based on the state’s Fair Districts Amendments), went on to explain how he fully intends to do the same thing if elected as president.

“I understand the different leverage points that you would have under Article Two of the Constitution. I studied that a lot, becoming governor, about Florida’s constitution,” he said. “Doing the same thing for the federal Constitution, and you’ve got to know how to use your leverage to advance what you’re trying to accomplish.”

In other words, he’s already telling us he’ll find ways to sidestep constitutional restraints on presidential power.

A day later, on The Mark Levin Show, DeSantis made his ambition for power even more explicit. “You also have to be willing to assert the true scope of Article Two powers,” he said on the conservative radio show, “and I think a lot our presidents have not be willing to do that.”

Remarkably similar, don’t you think? Trump’s and DeSantis’ craving for power and their visions for taking it. Get rid of all the career employees who know what they’re doing and really care about government. Ignore the Constitution where it grants powers to Congress, such as the power of the purse in Article One and the power to decide who appoints some department heads in Article Two. Claim that Article Two essentially gives the president any power he wants.

Republicans' Project 2025

But the really scary thing, according to The New York Times story, is that the Trump campaign/Heritage Foundation blueprint for a Republican presidential administration could become a thing even if neither Trump nor DeSantis wins. Could define the philosophy and personnel of a Republican administration if any of the party’s candidates were to win.

That’s because the plan, a $22 million presidential transition operation known as Project 2025, is being recommended by the project partners to any Republican running in the 2024 election. According to an April 20 Times story, Heritage and its project partners had already briefed Trump, DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former Vice President Mike Pence at that time. And they planned to give private briefings to all conservative candidates.

Like we said earlier, making the authoritarian agenda public is part of the Trump-Heritage strategy.

“Our current executive branch was conceived of by liberals for the purpose of promulgating liberal policies. There is no way to make the existing structure function in a conservative manner. It’s not enough to get the personnel right. What’s necessary is a complete system overhaul,” John McEntee, a former Trump White House personnel chief now working on Project 2025, told The Times.

Talking openly about such “paradigm-shifting ideas” allows the campaign to “plant a flag” to shift the debate, at least among Republicans, and to later be able to claim a mandate, Russell T. Vought, another Trump White House department head now working on Project 2025, also told The Times.

The strategy might be working. Vought – who ran the Office of Management and Budget in Trump’s White House and now runs the Center for Renewing America, a conservative policy organization – said he was pleased to see so few Republican candidates defend the norm of Justice Department independence after Trump openly attacked the long-established tradition of presidents keeping their hands out of Justice Department investigations.

Last month Trump vowed to appoint a special prosecutor to “go after” Biden and his family if he is returned to the presidency. The Times then asked his Republican rivals what limits there are or should be on presidents interfering with federal law enforcement decisions.

Only Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson, two former U.S. attorneys who both are seeking votes from anti-Trump moderate Republicans, unequivocally said presidents should not direct investigations or prosecutions of individuals.

While DeSantis did not answer the specific question about investigations of individuals, he did say “the fundamental insight” he gleans from the Constitution is that the Justice Department and FBI are not “independent” from the White House and that the president can lawfully exert direct control over them.

Pence’s spokesman said Pence believes the DOJ has some independence in prosecutorial matters but did not elaborate.

And the other candidates generally gave vague answers about imposing justice impartially while also accusing the current Justice Department of targeting Republicans for political reasons, although most did not point to a basis for those accusations, The Times said.

Embracing antidemocratic ideology

Richardson, the Boston College history professor who publishes her “Letters from an American” essays on, also offered some general analysis of this and of how the Republican leaders’ planned overhaul of American government indicates they appear to have fully embraced an authoritarian, antidemocratic ideology.

“Because all the institutions of our democracy are designed to support the tenets of democracy, right-wingers claim those institutions are weaponized against them,” she wrote in her July 18 essay. “House Republicans are running hearings designed to prove that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice are both ‘weaponized’ against Republicans. It doesn’t matter that they don’t seem to have any evidence of bias: the very fact that those institutions support democracy mean they support a system that right-wing Republicans see as hostile.”

Of course, the real, underlying danger to American democracy is not just that most Republican politicians have embraced, or at least accepted, the anti-democratic (some would call it fascist) form of government pushed by Trump and DeSantis, but that a sizeable portion of Republican voters – the MAGA voters – have.

That big chunk of voters is what is keeping the likes of Nikki Haley and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, as well as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Ohio Sen. JD Vance, in lockstep with the Trump-Heritage network. That, and the financial support of the very rich, corporate backers of the Heritage Foundation network, who want to maintain their oligarchic influence on the federal government through business-friendly laws and court decisions like Citizens United. These Republican mealy-mouths are followers, not leaders, whose ambition nevertheless outstrips their democratic principles.

So, what do we do?

If we want to keep democracy, then we speak out against this new American fascism and we promote Democratic policies and candidates to everyone we encounter. Starting now.

Promote and vote Democratic.


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