With the Republican presidential primary little more than a month away, leading figures in US politics including Liz Cheney, Joe Biden and Donald Trump himself are warning of the potential for an authoritarian takeover should Trump return to power.
“One of the things that we see happening today is a sort of sleepwalking into dictatorship in the United States,” Cheney, an anti-Trump Republican who vice-chaired the House January 6 committee before being ejected from Congress, told CBS while promoting her memoir.
Trump, Cheney said, has “told us what he will do. It’s very easy to see the steps that he will take.”
Trump leads Republican primary polling by vast margins nationally and in key states, despite facing 91 criminal charges and assorted civil threats. A number of polls have also put Trump ahead of Joe Biden in key states leading to Democratic hand-wringing over the state of the president’s campaign.
A core part of Biden’s messaging has been the threat to democracy that Trump represents: a threat Trump himself seems to explicitly make.
On Tuesday, Trump told the Fox News host Sean Hannity: “I love this guy. He says, ‘You’re not going to be a dictator, are you?’ I said, ‘No, no, no, other than day one. We’re closing the border and we’re drilling, drilling, drilling.
“After that, I’m not a dictator.’”
Seen in the most charitable light, Trump could have been referring to plans to sign a flurry of executive orders on the first day of a second term – a common presidential gambit.
But he has increasingly and openly talked about using the power of the state to exact “retribution” and safeguard his own grip on power. He recently used a Univision interview to muse: “If I happen to be president and I see somebody who’s doing well and beating me very badly, I say go down and indict them, mostly they would be out of business. They’d be out. They’d be out of the election.”
Furthermore, the former president’s aides and allies have uttered such ideas more coherently and in more detail, describing to reporters apparently well-developed plans to go after Trump’s enemies, real and perceived, political and bureaucratic, should he win re-election.
Project 2025, a manifesto for the next presidential transition coordinated by the conservative Heritage Foundation, is perhaps the most visible of such plans.
In the words of Paul Dans, its director, Project 2025 is “systematically preparing to march into office and bring a new army, aligned, trained, and essentially weaponised conservatives ready to do battle against the deep state”.
Trump’s targets include using state power to go after the media. A figure closer to Trump – Kash Patel, a national security aide in Trump’s first term now tipped for a senior role in a second – recently told the podcast host Steve Bannon, Trump’s former White House strategist: “We will go out and find the conspirators, not just in government but in the media.
“Yes, we’re going to come after the people in the media who lied about American citizens, who helped Joe Biden rig presidential elections – we’re going to come after you. Whether it’s criminally or civilly, we’ll figure that out.
“We’re actually going to use the constitution to prosecute them for crimes they said we have always been guilty of but never have.”
The New York Times recently noted that since Trump left power, Patel has “capitalised on his fame as a Trump insider”, selling “‘Kash’ merchandise … and [writing] a children’s book about the Russia investigation in which a ‘King Donald’ is persecuted by a wicked ‘Hillary Queenton’.”
Trump’s political allies in Congress and firm grip on the Republican party have also been condemned as a threat to US democracy.
“People who say, ‘Well, if he’s elected, it’s not that dangerous because we have all of these checks and balances,’ don’t fully understand the extent to which the Republicans in Congress today have been co-opted,” Cheney said.
Not long after Cheney spoke to CBS, the Republican House speaker, Mike Johnson, announced plans to release footage of the January 6 insurrection with rioters’ faces blurred, lest anyone who attacked Congress after being urged by Trump to overturn the 2020 election be recognised and “retaliated against” by law enforcement.
Speaking to CNN, Cheney accused Johnson of an Orwellian attempt to “suggest that there is something in these tapes that would change the facts of what happened. There’s nothing in the tape that can change the facts of what happened that day, can change the violent assault.”
In polling regarding a notional 2024 general election, Biden and Trump remain neck-and-neck.
Some observers have pointed out that Trump’s extreme legal predicament may yet dynamite his chances, particularly if he is convicted, but with Biden’s approval ratings dwindling, and majorities of voters saying that at 81 he is too old for a second term, the president has increasingly made the threat posed by Trump a key part of his campaign message.
“We’ve got to get it done,” Biden told a fundraiser in Boston on Tuesday, referring to his attempt to ensure re-election. “Not because of me … if Trump wasn’t running I’m not sure I’d be running. We cannot let him win.”
Source: The Guardian