What happens if Donald Trump wins a second term as US president?

Ohio Senator JD Vance, an enthusiastic convert to Donald Trump’s cause, once offered a broad vision of how Trump should govern in a second term: “fire all the mid-level bureaucrats, all the administrative state officials , replace them with our people.”

Polls one year before the 2024 elections suggest that Trump has a good chance of winning. If he does, he and his allies want to be prepared to govern the country in a way they were not in 2016.

For more than a year, groups supporting Trump have been advertising plans to fill government positions with people loyal to him if he wins a second term.

Trump believes his first term was undermined by bureaucrats of the “deep state,” “weak” lawyers and even “woke generals.” Some of his opponents argue that government officials effectively acted as “guardrails” during the Trump administration, saving the country from its worst instincts.

There seems to be almost a consensus among Trump’s friends and enemies that his authoritarian plans for a second term would require more cooperative government officials than last time.

But to what extent could Trump really reshape the US government?

Theory of bureaucratic politics

In 1971, political scientist Graham Allison wrote Essence of Decisionan analysis of the actions of the Kennedy administration in the Cuban missile crisis. Allison argued that the US government’s foreign policy decisions could not be understood simply as rational responses to external situations. Decisions are political outcomes resulting from complicated “games” played between different actors within the government.

Even in foreign policy, an area in which the president of the United States has a lot of power compared to other policy areas, the president needs help making decisions. Those decisions reflect negotiations between cabinet secretaries, military figures, diplomats and advisers, all of whom have their own interests and points of view.

One of the first critics of the book, realist international relations scholar Stephen Krasner, He was not impressed by this analysis. He believed that he would be popular with high-level policymakers because he would obscure their responsibility for the decisions they made.

In the end, Krasner argued, there is only one decision-maker in US foreign policy: the president. Games can be played among the president’s staff and bureaucrats, but they are games whose rules are written by the president and whose players are chosen by the president.

Allison’s theory would resonate with those who imagine an establishment of “deep state” thwarting the president’s agenda. Trump is not the first president to criticize the opposition embedded in his own administration, especially on foreign policy. Barack Obama’s staff complained about “The Blob,” a militaristic establishment that included Obama’s defense secretary.

Other Democratic presidents also used bubble-like metaphors. Allison pointed out that John F. Kennedy described the State Department like “a bowl of Jell-O,” while Franklin D. Roosevelt said that trying to change something in the Navy was “like hitting a feather mattress.”

But we should remember Krasner’s warnings that presidents and their allies would use bureaucratic opposition as an excuse for the deficiencies of the systems they controlled. At times, Trump was frustrated by appointees who ignored his orders or refused to carry them out because they were illegal.

But those people usually didn’t last long in the administration after clashing with Trump.

The Trump administration set records for turnover among White House staff and Cabinet positions, and had a very high vacancy rate for Senate-confirmed appointments. By the end of his presidency, almost everyone who disagreed with him had left, and his cabinet was full of acting secretaries. This, he claimed, gave him “more flexibility.”

The inexperience and incompetence of Trump’s people In the end they were bigger problems for him than disloyalty and opposition. Selecting top officials based solely on his loyalty could be a recipe for another four years of unchecked domination.

Crushing the administrative state

Trump’s allies have ambitions beyond imposing loyalty to the businessman, who can only serve one more term. His former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, called early in Trump’s first term for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” This may seem new and radical, but it broadly aligns with the goals of conservative policy since the New Deal of Roosevelt.

Congress delegates many of the government’s powers to dozens of independent regulatory agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board.

These bodies have the power to do things like set and enforce clean air standards, investigate and publish consumer complaints about financial services, and hold elections on union representation.

The legitimacy of these agencies has long been attacked by conservatives, who believe they bypass legislatures to promote liberal policy goals. Lawyers from the Reagan and Bush administrations developed the theory of the “unitary executive,” which affirmed the president’s right to fire uncooperative public officials and questioned the constitutionality of independent government agencies.

Toward the end of his presidency, Trump signed an executive order to create Schedule F, which would reclassify tens of thousands of career public officials as political appointees, stripping them of their job protections. Biden rescinded the order within days of taking office, but Trump’s allies now see it as the key to finally taking control of the administrative state.

Their stated goal is to remove public servants who are likely to obstruct Trump’s agenda and replace them with people committed to it. In theory, this would increase the president’s power.

However, the long-term effect of flooding the public administration with thousands of political officials hostile to the government would be to reduce the capacity of the entire government, regardless of the president. The quality of government services would degrade and public trust in government would further erode.

Not all conservatives like this plan. Some warn that this would return the United States to the “spoils system” that existed before neutral civil service, where public sector jobs were rewards doled out to political supporters. But conservative dominance now belongs to those who can best align their ideologies with Trump’s grievances.

Control is still an illusion

The Conservative and Activist Think Tank Heritage Foundation he boasts that “the left is right to fear our plan to gut the federal bureaucracy.” The mass firing of political enemies fits well with Trump’s focus on “retribution.” But Heritage and other organizations are peddling an illusion that will likely leave Trump or any other president frustrated.

It is easy to blame scheming bureaucrats and “traitors” in the administration for the failures of Trump’s first term. The reality is that all recent presidents have faced the same intractable problem: It is increasingly difficult to get any major legislation passed in a polarized Congress. It is the lack of legislation that forces presidents to depend on executive orders inherently weak.

Trump also had the problem that much of what he wanted was illegal. While his allies are now looking for administration lawyers who “are willing to use theories that more establishment lawyers would reject,” Trump would also need the cooperation of judges to implement plans such as a “strong ideological examination” of immigrants.

The hundreds of judges Trump appointed to federal courts, including three Supreme Court justices, have certainly facilitated the implementation of a conservative political agenda. But they wouldn’t help Trump when it came to the issue that mattered most to him: overturning the results of the 2020 election.

Trump may discover that the lifetime appointments of his first term have created a new conservative legal establishment that can help his allies but is at odds with his personal ambitions.

Several Trump biographers have suggested he will never be satisfied. with no level of power or prestige. He is unlikely to get what he wants from a second term in the White House. But many others will see it as a great opportunity to settle long-standing scores.

*To read this note On the original site, click here.

*Written by David Smith, Associate Professor in American and Foreign Policy at the US Studies Centre, University of Sydney, Australia

*The Conversation is an independent, nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.