Donald Trump is stepping up plans for a possible second term in office, and will focus on rooting out political foes, slapping billions of dollars of new tariffs on imports, dramatically restricting immigration, and scaling back US involvement in overseas wars.
The former president has a strong lead in the polls over his rivals in the Republican primary field and holds a slight edge in a rematch against incumbent Joe Biden for the White House. And he has been open about his aims at fiery public rallies, consulting with former officials from his administration, and assembling gatherings of experts from rightwing think-tanks close to his views.
Some of his areas of focus are raising alarm bells about the future of US democracy and global leadership. “It echoes language you heard in Nazi Germany in the 30s,” Biden said during his trip to California this week.
Supporters say Trump is looking to simply restore America to where it was before the 2020 election, while tackling the unfinished business of his administration.
Eradicating the ‘vermin’
At an event in New Hampshire last weekend, Trump vowed to “root out” the “communists, Marxists, racists and radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country”.
The former president frequently says he is a victim of political persecution after being charged with federal and state crimes in four separate venues this year, and has signalled he wants to take his fight against the so-called deep state to a new level.
Not only is Trump expected to pick his own loyalists to top roles in federal agencies but he will also seek to oust career civil servants across the government, with the justice department, the FBI, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which led the US’s fight against the Covid pandemic, among those in the line of fire.
“I think there needs to be a purge in the appropriate places, after looking at who and what went wrong and how to fix it. That might be large-scale in some agencies versus others,” said Kash Patel, a former top defence department official under Trump and senior fellow for national security and intelligence at The Center for Renewing America, a think-tank close to the former president.
Patel rejected the characterisation of those plans as based on “vengeance or revenge” but said there needed to be “accountability”.
‘A ring around the collar’
Trump upended US trade policy while he was in office, launching trade wars with China and other rivals as well as against allies like the EU and Japan — and may do so again. In August, he proposed an across-the-board 10 per cent tariff on imports.
“I think we should have a ring around the collar, as they say,” Trump told Fox Business. “When companies come in and they dump their products in the United States, they should pay automatically, let’s say, a 10 per cent tax. That money would be used to pay off debt.”
Stephen Moore, his former economic adviser at the White House who was at Mar-a-Lago this week, said the details of how the plan was “going to be crafted” had not been “figured out yet”, but Trump “certainly has been talking a lot about that”. “That would be a big deal,” he said.
One former Trump administration official said additional tariffs on imports from China would be needed in a new term. Trump struck a deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping in early 2020 to ease trade tensions. But Beijing is not seen to have respected the agreement’s terms by people close Trump.
While Biden has maintained Trump-era tariffs on China and placed export controls on sensitive technologies, he has emphasised “de-risking” from China rather than “decoupling” and sought to reduce economic tensions — including at a summit in San Francisco this week.
But the former Trump official said Biden’s approach was too soft. “We ought to be increasing [the tariffs] because the situation has gotten worse,” he said.
‘We will stop World War III’
Trump has been blasting Biden on foreign policy, saying Hamas would have never attacked Israel under his watch and Russia would not have invaded Ukraine — and the world is more unstable than when he was in office.
The former president has claimed he could bring peace to Ukraine within “24 hours”. Since he knows “all the players” in the world, he would prevent “World War III”, he has said.
But what that means in practice is still being hashed out, since the Republican party is split between an isolationist faction on foreign affairs led by Trump and the more traditional hawkish faction, which includes some of his allies.
A Trump presidency would almost certainly raise questions about the future of US economic and security aid to crucial US allies and partners, as well as the future of Nato. After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Biden has pushed to bolster the transatlantic alliance. But Trump has threatened to withdraw the US from Nato — and at the very least would revive his aggressive pushes for new defence spending from other members.
“We do not want to be in the business of absorbing all of the burden for these Nato countries as it pertains to extending the Nato alliance and having big numbers of troops in the European continent,” said Russell Vought, the former White House budget director under Trump and the president of The Center for Renewing America. “This is something we just feel like we’ve got to get away from and pull back as much as we possibly can.”
‘The largest domestic deportation option’
The partial building of a wall between the southern border and Mexico during Trump’s term has not stemmed the tide of people crossing into the US seeking refuge.
In response, Trump has vowed a massive new crackdown on immigration in a second term.
“Nobody has ever seen anything like we’re witnessing right now. It is a very sad thing for our country. It’s poisoning the blood of our country,” he said in an interview with The National Pulse last month.
Trump and his top aides, including Stephen Miller, an immigration hardliner who was a senior White House staffer, have been weighing proposals including a revival of the ban on entry for citizens from Muslim majority countries, sweeping round-ups of undocumented immigrants and the creation of giant detention camps close to the southern border. They have also been considering the end of birthright citizenship in the US.
“Any activists who doubt President Trump’s resolve in the slightest are making a drastic error. Trump will unleash the vast arsenal of federal powers to implement the most spectacular migration crackdown,” Miller told The New York Times.