There was a lot of talk about the “deep state” during Trump’s term in office. Basically this was the idea that there was an unelected administrative state that exists in Washington, DC which creates a certain amount of stasis no matter who was elected. Today, the NY Times reports that part of Trump’s campaign is the idea that, if reelected in 2024, he’ll make dismantling the administrative state a primary goal using an approach known as the unitary executive.
The agenda being pursued has deep roots in the decades-long effort by conservative legal thinkers to undercut what has become known as the administrative state — agencies that enact regulations aimed at keeping the air and water clean and food, drugs and consumer products safe, but that cut into business profits.
Its legal underpinning is a maximalist version of the so-called unitary executive theory.
The legal theory rejects the idea that the government is composed of three separate branches with overlapping powers to check and balance each other. Instead, the theory’s adherents argue that Article 2 of the Constitution gives the president complete control of the executive branch, so Congress cannot empower agency heads to make decisions or restrict the president’s ability to fire them. Reagan administration lawyers developed the theory as they sought to advance a deregulatory agenda.
“The notion of independent federal agencies or federal employees who don’t answer to the president violates the very foundation of our democratic republic,” said Kevin D. Roberts, the president of the Heritage Foundation, adding that the contributors to Project 2025 are committed to “dismantling this rogue administrative state.”
Trump has a whole section of his campaign website devoted to these ideas. For instance, here’s a page titled “Using Impoundment to Cut Waste, Stop Inflation, and Crush the Deep State.”
For 200 years under our system of government, it was undisputed that the President had the Constitutional power to stop unnecessary spending through what is known as Impoundment.
Very simply, this meant that if Congress provided more funding than was needed to run the government, the President could refuse to waste the extra funds, and instead return the money to the general treasury and maybe even lower your taxes, although we did give you the biggest tax reduction in history, and the biggest regulation reduction in history, two things I am very proud of. And they still are there, although they are disappearing rapidly under Biden.
Thomas Jefferson famously used this power, as did many other presidents until it was wrongfully curtailed by the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 – not a very good act. This disaster of a law is clearly unconstitutional—a blatant violation of the separation of powers.
When I return to the White House, I will do everything I can to challenge the Impoundment Control Act in court, and if necessary, get Congress to overturn it. We will overturn it.
Impounding funds was banned by Congress to prevent President Nixon from blocking spending on programs he disagreed with. So Trump’s plan is to “challenge the constitutionality of limits placed on the Impoundment Power” or to work with Congress to overturn the 1974 law preventing impoundment. Obviously this would be dependent on which party has control of Congress.
All of this sounds a bit esoteric and not like the kind of thing that moves the needle in a campaign. But you really have to hear Trump’s pitch to appreciate it how he’s using this in his stump speeches:
Mr. Trump himself has characterized his intentions rather differently — promising on his campaign website to “find and remove the radicals who have infiltrated the federal Department of Education” and listing a litany of targets at a rally last month.
“We will demolish the deep state,” Mr. Trump said at the rally in Michigan. “We will expel the warmongers from our government. We will drive out the globalists. We will cast out the communists, Marxists and fascists. And we will throw off the sick political class that hates our country.”
He’s running against the deep state in the same way he’s running against Biden, using it as a foil. And he’s being very open about it in hopes that, if elected, he’ll be able to claim a mandate.
Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Mr. Trump’s campaign, said in a statement that the former president has “laid out a bold and transparent agenda for his second term, something no other candidate has done.” He added, “Voters will know exactly how President Trump will supercharge the economy, bring down inflation, secure the border, protect communities and eradicate the deep state that works against Americans once and for all.”
In theory, the changes Trump is talking about could be used to cut spending and fire employees who aren’t doing their jobs. They could also be used, as Trump seems to be suggesting, to target agencies and individuals who defy the president or who simply seem like they might defy him.