How Trump Plans to Wield Power in 2025: What We Know


Since beginning his 2024 presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump has said the “termination” of the Constitution would have been justified to overturn the 2020 election, told followers “I am your retribution” and vowed to use the Justice Department to prosecute his adversaries — starting with President Biden and his family.

Beneath these public threats is a series of plans by Mr. Trump and his allies that would upend core elements of American governance, democracy, foreign policy and the rule of law if he regains the White House.

Some of these themes trace back to the final period of Mr. Trump’s term in office. By that stage, his key advisers had learned how to more effectively wield power and Mr. Trump had fired officials who resisted some of his impulses and replaced them with loyalists. Then he lost the 2020 election and was cast out of power.

Since leaving office, Mr. Trump’s advisers and allies at a network of well-funded groups have advanced policies, created lists of potential personnel and started shaping new legal scaffolding — laying the groundwork for a second Trump presidency they hope will commence on Jan. 20, 2025.

In a vague statement, two top officials on Mr. Trump’s campaign have sought to distance his campaign team from some of the plans being developed by Mr. Trump’s outside allies, groups led by former senior Trump administration officials who remain in direct contact with him. The statement called news reports about the campaign’s personnel and policy intentions “purely speculative and theoretical.”

The plans described here generally derive from what Mr. Trump has trumpeted on the campaign trail, what has appeared on his campaign website and interviews with Trump advisers, including some who spoke with The New York Times at the request of the campaign.

If he wins another term, Mr. Trump has said he would use the Justice Department to have his adversaries investigated and charged with crimes, including saying in June that he would appoint “a real special prosecutor to go after” President Biden and his family. He later declared in an interview with Univision that he could, if someone challenged him politically, have that person indicted.

Allies of Mr. Trump have also been developing an intellectual blueprint to cast aside the post-Watergate norm of Justice Department investigatory independence from White House political direction.

Foreshadowing such a move, Mr. Trump had already violated norms in his 2016 campaign by promising to “lock up” his opponent, Hillary Clinton, over her use of a private email server. While president, he repeatedly told aides he wanted the Justice Department to indict his political enemies, including officials he had fired such as James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director. The Justice Department opened various such investigations but did not bring charges — infuriating Mr. Trump and leading to a split in 2020 with his attorney general, William P. Barr.

Mr. Trump is planning to revive and ramp up his first-term attempt to tighten the border with an assault on immigration at a scale unseen in modern American history. Millions of undocumented immigrants would be barred from the country or uprooted from it years or even decades after settling here.

Bolstered by agents reassigned from other law enforcement agencies, officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement would carry out sweeping raids aimed at deporting millions of people each year — an order of magnitude more than previous administrations, including his own.

Under the plan, military funds would be used to erect sprawling camps to hold undocumented detainees. A public-health emergency law would be invoked to shut down asylum requests by people arriving at the border. And the government would try to end birthright citizenship for babies born on U.S. soil to undocumented parents.

Mr. Trump is also planning to significantly escalate his first-term efforts to upend America’s trade policies with new protectionist measures. While those measures would be aimed at eventually bolstering domestic manufacturing and factory jobs, they would also risk causing more immediate disruptions to the economy.

To make domestically produced goods more competitive in the U.S. market, he is planning to impose a new so-called universal baseline tariff, meaning an import tax on “most imported goods.” That would raise costs for U.S. consumers and for manufacturers that buy foreign goods. It would also risk alienating allies and could ignite a global trade war if other countries respond with retaliatory tariffs targeting U.S. exports.

Mr. Trump started a trade war with China in 2018. While the Biden administration has kept in place the tariffs Mr. Trump imposed then, Mr. Trump now wants to go much further in spurring an economic conflict between the world’s two largest economies, which exchanged $758 billion in goods and services last year. He plans to “enact aggressive new restrictions on Chinese ownership” of assets in the United States, bar Americans from investing in China and phase in a ban on importing key categories of Chinese-made goods like electronics, steel and pharmaceuticals.

Mr. Trump has long made clear that he sees the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the country’s most important military alliance, not as a force multiplier with allies but as a drain on American resources by freeloaders.

While in office, he repeatedly threatened to withdraw from NATO, and his campaign website says he plans to “finish” the process of “fundamentally re-evaluating NATO’s purpose and NATO’s mission.” He and his team have refused to elaborate on that cryptic line, fueling widespread anxiety that his return to power could mean ending or gutting the alliance.

But Mr. Trump has clearer plans for using U.S. military force closer to home. As president, he had mused about using the military to attack drug cartels in Mexico, an idea that would violate international law unless Mexico consented. That idea has since taken on broader Republican backing, and Mr. Trump has said he intends to make the idea a reality if he returns to the Oval Office.

Mr. Trump could also deploy federal troops inside the United States. While it is generally illegal to use the military for domestic law enforcement purposes, a law called the Insurrection Act creates an exception. His top immigration adviser has said that in a second term, they would invoke the Insurrection Act at the southern border to use soldiers as immigration agents.

After some anti-police-violence demonstrations in 2020 became riots, Mr. Trump had an order drafted to use troops to crack down on protesters in Washington. He never signed it. But the prospect of using federal troops to enforce order on domestic soil continues to entice him. Mr. Trump also suggested at a rally in Iowa this year that he intends to unilaterally send troops into Democratic-run cities.

“You look at any Democrat-run state, and it’s just not the same — it doesn’t work,” Mr. Trump said, calling cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco crime dens. “We cannot let it happen any longer. And one of the other things I’ll do — because you’re supposed to not be involved in that, you just have to be asked by the governor or the mayor to come in — the next time, I’m not waiting.”

Mr. Trump and his backers want to increase presidential power over federal agencies, centralizing greater control over the entire machinery of government in the White House.

They have adopted a maximalist version of the so-called unitary executive theory, which says the president can directly command the entire federal bureaucracy and that it is unconstitutional for Congress to create pockets of independent decision-making authority.

As part of that plan, Mr. Trump also intends to revive an effort from the end of his presidency to alter civil-service rules that protect career government professionals, enabling him to fire tens of thousands of federal workers and replace them with loyalists. After Congress failed to enact legislation to block such a change, the Biden administration is developing a regulation to essentially Trump-proof the federal work force. However, since that is merely an executive action, the next Republican president could simply undo it the same way.

Forces that somewhat contained Mr. Trump’s autocratic tendencies in his first term — staff members who saw their job as sometimes restraining him, a few congressional Republicans episodically willing to criticize or oppose him, a partisan balance on the Supreme Court that occasionally ruled against him — would all be weaker in a second term. As a result, his and his advisers’ more extreme policy plans would have a greater prospect of becoming reality.

Perhaps the most important check on his presidency was internal administration resistance to some of his demands. The advisers who have stuck with him are determined that if he wins a new term, there will be no officials who intentionally stymie his agenda. A coalition of think tanks run by people aligned with Mr. Trump has been compiling a database of thousands of ideologically vetted potential recruits to hand to a transition team if he wins the election.

Politically appointed lawyers sometimes frustrated Mr. Trump’s desires by raising legal objections to his and his top advisers’ ideas. In a potential new term, Mr. Trump’s allies are planning to systematically install more aggressive and ideologically aligned legal gatekeepers who will be more likely to bless contentious actions. And Mr. Trump and his 2024 campaign declined to answer a series of detailed questions about what limits, if any, he would recognize on his powers across a range of war, secrecy and law enforcement matters — many raised by his first term — in a New York Times 2024 presidential candidate survey.

Share post:



More like this