For the first time since leaving office, former President Donald Trump has started getting specific about what he would do if he wins a second term in the White House.
The pitches he’s made onstage over the past month in speeches from Washington, D.C., to Dallas to Las Vegas are a stark contrast from ordinary stump speeches. He promises a break from American history if elected, with a federal government stacked with loyalists and unleashed to harm his perceived enemies.
There has never been a potential candidate like Trump: a defeated former president whose followers attacked the Capitol, who still insists he never lost and who openly pledges revenge on those he views as having wronged him.
As his 2016 campaign and administration showed time and again, from the border wall to the Muslim ban, he and his aides worked furiously to translate rally slogans into official policy — whether or not there were legal or political barriers to overcome. If Trump does return to the White House in 2025, this time he will be surrounded by fewer advisers interested in moderating or restraining his impulses.
Instead, his administration would probably be staffed by dedicated loyalists, and would have the advantage of an emboldened conservative majority on the Supreme Court. He and his advisers would also have more experience in how to exert power inside the federal bureaucracy and exploit vulnerabilities in institutions and laws.
Trump has strongly hinted that he wants to run for president again and has been considering an early announcement before the November midterms. Last week’s search of his Mar-a-Lago residence and club added urgency for those of his advisers who favor an early launch, a person with direct knowledge told The Washington Post, but Trump hasn’t committed to a timeline.
A Trump spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
Here are six specific proposals that have recently surfaced in Trump’s speeches — and what each plan might look like if he pursued it from the White House.
1. Execute drug dealers
Trump has a long record of supporting the death penalty and has advocated executing people for drug crimes since at least 2018. His recent speeches have repeatedly returned to the idea as part of his public-safety messaging.
“If you look at countries all throughout the world, no matter where you go, the only ones that don’t have a drug problem are those that institute the death penalty for drug dealers,” Trump said at a law-and-order-themed speech in Las Vegas in July. In the Washington speech, he elaborated by calling for a joint task force of the departments of Justice and Homeland Security to dismantle gangs and organized street crime.
Existing federal law makes it a capital offense to run a criminal enterprise that takes in more than $20 million a year or traffics major quantities of heroin, methamphetamines or similar drugs. However, the death penalty has never been imposed for drug trafficking, without a related murder, according to the Congressional Research Service, and courts have not ruled on its constitutionality.
The Trump administration prioritized resuming federal executions after a 17-year hiatus. The administration ultimately put to death 13 people, including six after Trump lost reelection in 2020. The Justice Department’s hurry to finish the executions before the inauguration of Joe Biden, who opposes the death penalty, included extraordinary measures such as conducting executions in the middle of the night, moving forward despite pending appeals, buying drugs from a secret pharmacy and paying cash to private executioners.
Forty-four people remain on federal death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. In July 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered a moratorium on federal executions while the Justice Department continues reviewing the Trump administration’s changes to its rules and procedures for capital offenses.
A slight majority of U.S. adults support the death penalty for convicted murderers, a level that has held steady since 2017 and is lower than at any other time since 1972, according to Gallup polls. Capital punishment is more popular with Republicans, 77% of whom support it.
2. Move homeless people to outlying ‘tent cities’
As Trump has honed a law-and-order message, packing his speeches with graphic accounts of violent offenses and bleak appraisals of America’s cities, he has particularly focused on images of people living on the streets. Trump’s solution is to move homeless people to “tent cities” on the outskirts of metropolitan areas, staffed with medical professionals and built to house hundreds of thousands or even millions of people.
“The only way you’re going to remove the homeless encampments and reclaim our downtowns is to open up large parcels, large tracts, of relatively inexpensive land on the outer skirts of the various cities and bring in medical professionals, psychiatrists, psychologists and drug rehab specialists and create tent cities,” Trump said on Aug. 6 at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas. “You don’t have time to build buildings, you can do that later, but you have to get the people off the street. We have to bring back, we have to reclaim our cities.”
In a July speech in Washington, Trump acknowledged that the idea would be controversial but argued it would be an improvement. “Now, some people say, ‘Oh, that’s so horrible’ — no, what’s horrible is what’s happening now,” he said.
There isn’t up-to-date national data on unhoused people, but shelter officials in 15 states have told The Post they’re seeing an increase in people seeking services, in part because of rising costs of living. Trump’s claim in July that the tent cities could be needed for “probably millions of people” is dubious, however; as of January 2020, an estimated 580,000 people were experiencing homelessness nationwide, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Trump’s Washington speech happened to coincide with the alliance’s conference, setting off a ripple of concern among the 1,300 attendees and leading the group’s chief executive, Ann Oliva, to address it from the stage.
“The picture that he was trying to paint is that homeless people are dangerous and therefore need to be removed so the rest of us can go about our lives, and that is just not true,” Oliva said in an interview. “Spending a ton of money on newly built encampments that don’t have a plan to get people back into safe and affordable housing does not add up to me.”
Oliva, who used to run homelessness programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said it wasn’t clear which federal agencies could have the authorities or resources to implement Trump’s plan. Without a connection to federal property or federal crimes, U.S. authorities wouldn’t have jurisdiction to act without cooperation from local officials.
Any plan to relocate homeless people would have to comply with a 2019 federal appeals court decision called Martin v. City of Boise, which held that an ordinance could not ban sleeping in public without providing alternatives.
“As long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors,” the court wrote. The ruling stands after the Supreme Court denied a high-profile bid to review the case. Judges would have to consider whether Trump’s tent cities could meet this standard.
During his speech, Trump suggested that as president he’d ordered the Secret Service to clear homeless encampments in Washington. A Secret Service spokesperson said that never happened. “The Secret Service does not enforce state and local laws, and we have not and would not take part in the clearing of any homeless encampments within the District of Columbia,” Communications Chief Anthony Guglielmi said in an email.
Trump’s proposal recalls a 2019 venture by officials from HUD, along with the departments of Veterans Affairs and Justice, to use Federal Aviation Administration facilities as sites for relocated homeless people. That initiative never materialized.
The “tent city” plan also resembles some state efforts. A recently passed state law in Missouri directs money to temporary camps instead of permanent housing. The city of Miami this month abandoned a controversial plan to move homeless people to tiny homes on a barrier island.
3. Deploy federal force against crime, unrest and protests
During the social justice protests that followed George Floyd’s murder in 2020, Trump pressured governors to respond more forcefully to demonstrations that were largely peaceful but at times erupted into clashes with police or resulted in property damage. Trump threatened to deploy the military unless state and local officials cracked down harder on the protests.
In recent speeches, Trump has said he showed too much deference to local leaders and wished he’d ordered more federal intervention. Trump indicated he wouldn’t hesitate in the future.
“I was mandated, ‘Wait for the governors,’ but sometimes I couldn’t do that,” he said in the Washington speech. “The federal government can and should send the National Guard to restore order and secure the peace without having to wait for the approval of some governor that thinks it’s politically incorrect to call them in.”
National Guard troops are under state control, but the president has the authority to federalize them in an emergency. Trump did deploy heavily armed federal law enforcement agents in D.C., where he could exercise more direct authority than in states.
Trump has had support for this idea from allies in the past. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., urged Trump in a controversial op-ed in June 2020 to deploy the active-duty military. But Trump’s defense secretary, Mark T. Esper, publicly objected to deploying the military against domestic civil unrest.
Trump has not let go of the idea. His recent speeches showed a greater determination to use the National Guard or the military in the future.
“The next president should use every power at his disposal to restore order, and if necessary, that includes sending in the National Guard or the troops,” Trump said at CPAC on Aug. 6. “I think the next time, either we’re going for a very quick change or we’re sending them in.”
Future efforts to deploy the military domestically or impose martial law could prompt resistance or even resignations from military brass.
4. Strip job protections for federal workers
In October 2020, Trump signed an executive order reclassifying tens of thousands of federal workers to remove their employment protections and make them easier to fire. The National Treasury Employees Union sued to stop the change, and before a court could rule on the challenge, Biden took office and revoked the order.
Lately, Trump has declared his intent to restore the change and put it to greater use. He’s gone further by calling on Congress to overhaul the civil service through a statute, which could be more sweeping and harder to reverse than an executive order.
“Congress should pass historic reforms, empowering the president to ensure that any bureaucrat who is corrupt, incompetent or unnecessary for the job can be told — did you ever hear this? — ‘You’re fired,’ ” Trump said at the July speech in Washington. “Get out. You’re fired. Have to do it.”
Though overhauling the civil service by reclassifying employees under a new category called “Schedule F” may sound geeky, it’s become a consistent applause line in Trump’s speeches and even the basis for fundraising appeals.
“I told you I would DRAIN THE SWAMP and purge Washington of woke bureaucrats, and that’s exactly what Schedule F accomplishes,” an Aug. 9 email to supporters said.
Shrinking the federal bureaucracy and thereby weakening the civil service has been a long-standing conservative goal. Good-government groups say undermining the merit-based workforce would hurt professionalism and lead to politicization, reviving the “spoils system” of the 19th century, when government jobs were doled out to reward partisan supporters.
“The idea that an applause line would be to return to a corrupt form of 19th-century government is pretty surprising,” said Max Stier, chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan nonprofit that supports federal workforce development. “The basic concept is that federal employees could be fired without appeal for any reason. This is in effect converting career civil service positions into additional political appointees. The risk is the choices of leaders might be made not on behalf of the public interest but in an individual’s interest.”
Stier said legitimate concerns about removing federal workers for poor performance can be addressed without dismantling the entire merit-based civil service system. A future attempt to reimpose and implement Schedule F by executive action would face a new legal challenge, he said, which raises questions that courts have yet to resolve.
Trump’s allies and administration alumni working at the America First Policy Institute and other organizations are preparing political appointees who can slot into agencies and begin overhauling them immediately. Trump’s appointees often blamed career civil servants from the Census Bureau to VA for slow-walking or undermining the administration’s priorities.
“This is why we’ve got all these great think tanks coming up,” Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist who was convicted in July of contempt of Congress, said in an Aug. 5 speech at CPAC. “We’re gonna have a well-trained cadre of people that will hit the beach Day 1, and their No. 1 thing is to start taking apart the federal bureaucracy brick by brick.”
5. Eliminate the Education Department
Since last year, Republican candidates have tried to capitalize on some parents’ objections to instruction about racism, sexual orientation and gender identity. Much of the activism has focused on local school boards, where many policy decisions affecting public schools are made. But Trump recently floated an additional leverage point at the federal level.
“Across the country, we need to implement strict prohibitions on teaching inappropriate racial, sexual and political material to America’s schoolchildren in any form whatsoever,” Trump said at CPAC, “and if federal bureaucrats are going to push this radicalism, we should abolish the Department of Education.”
The Education Department, created in 1980, has about 4,400 employees and a discretionary budget of more than $78 billion. Most of the money goes to grants for local agencies to serve disadvantaged or disabled students and to financial aid or loan subsidies for college students. Trump did not specify whether some or all of those functions would be reassigned to other agencies or eliminated.
“Repealing the department doesn’t actually mean much if you don’t repeal the laws it’s responsible for implementing or enforcing,” said Michael J. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which conducts research on education, and a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “If you wanted to actually get rid of not just the name but everything it does, you’re talking about taking away tens of billions of dollars from K-12 schools and higher education, which would be incredibly unpopular.”
While federal law prohibits the department from setting curricula, its Office for Civil Rights has become a culture war target for its role in enforcing protections for women and LGBTQ students. And Republicans criticized the department last year for proposing a grant program on history and civics that referenced The New York Times Magazine’s “1619 Project” and the anti-racism author Ibram X. Kendi.
Still, Trump’s specific complaint about material on race, sex or politics involves decisions made on the local level, Petrilli said.
“To the extent stuff is happening out in schools that’s offensive to many parents and folks on the right, that is happening from the ground up or from national advocacy organizations,” Petrilli said. “It’s not coming from the Department of Education.”
Trump’s railing against some educational materials positions him alongside potential 2024 rivals such as Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has championed a state law restricting instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity. DeSantis’s Education Department also told administrators to ignore guidance from the Biden administration on civil rights protections for LGBT+ students.
Republicans since Reagan have aspired to abolish an entire federal agency but never achieved it. Other Republicans who have called for scrapping the Education Department include Betsy DeVos, who led the agency under Trump, and former Texas governor Rick Perry. A Trump administration proposal to cut the department’s budget hit a wall of resistance from constituencies of the affected programs.
“This is an oldie but a goody. There have been calls to abolish the department literally since its formation,” said Andy Rotherham, co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners, a national nonprofit serving marginalized communities. “The fact is it administers hundreds of billions of dollars in federal money, and you cannot just get rid of that.”
6. Restrict voting to one day using paper ballots
Trump’s grievances over losing the 2020 election and baseless conspiracy theories about voter fraud have inspired Republican state lawmakers across the country to propose and adopt new voting restrictions. Trump has called for measures such as universal voter ID since disbanding in 2018 the commission he established to back up his false claim of millions of fraudulent votes costing him the 2016 popular vote.
Trump has recently added a demand for same-day voting using paper ballots. “That should be our goal,” he said at CPAC. The proposal echoes his false claims blaming mail ballots and electronic voting machines for his loss in 2020.
As president, Trump could not change the rules on his own. He could pressure Republican-led state legislatures to pass more restrictions, or he could push for action in Congress. Congress has the power to regulate elections under the Constitution, with past examples including the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002.
Requiring everyone to vote on one day would upend elections across the country. Forty-six states and Washington, D.C., allow early in-person voting, and 35 and D.C. permit voting by mail without an excuse, including eight that automatically send mail ballots to voters, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The move would cost hundreds of millions of dollars for additional equipment and staff, according to Tammy Patrick, a former elections official in Maricopa County, Arizona, who is now an adviser with the Democracy Fund, an independent group supporting election administrators. Limiting voting to Election Day would also lead to hourslong lines at polls, she said.
“The American voter has become accustomed to having options and choices. If all that is stripped away for no real purpose and no good reason, that would dramatically change voters’ experience,” Patrick said. “If there truly was evidence of rampant voter fraud because voters had too many options in when and where to vote, then you could see a need to think about these things. But we have to be really clear, we don’t have any evidence.”
As for paper ballots, elections experts agree that machines should have paper records that can be recounted and audited, and almost all states already use machines that do, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. In 2020, only 32 jurisdictions nationwide depended solely on voting machines with no paper records, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
Trump has not gone as far as some allies who also want the paper ballots to be counted by hand. Machines have been used to count ballots in the U.S. since the 1960s, and Patrick said hand counting would make tabulation slower, less accurate and more expensive.
“A large jurisdiction with millions of ballots, multiplied by dozens of races and questions — that’s going to take months,” she said. “Not only would it take far longer, it would not be as accurate and you would need to enlist literally tens of thousands of people.”
What hand counting paper ballots could accomplish, though, is creating more delays, errors and confusion for Trump and his allies to further undermine confidence in elections and reject losses as illegitimate.