Trump has big plans for a second term. Critics say they pose a threat to democracy.

Donald Trump in 2020. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Donald Trump in 2020. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump’s campaign is developing plans to use the federal government to punish his political opponents if he wins a second term next year, and critics — including some prominent Republicans, even some staffers from his first term — say these plans would imperil American democracy.

On the campaign trail, Trump has made numerous public references to exacting revenge upon detractors and rivals, including promising to appoint a special prosecutor to “go after” President Biden for unspecified crimes. Earlier this month, in a speech and in a post on Truth Social, he referred to left-wing Americans as “vermin.”

Historians said such dehumanizing of one’s political opponents is frequently used by fascist dictators. Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung responded by saying, “Those who try to make that ridiculous assertion are clearly snowflakes grasping for anything because they are suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome and their entire existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.”

According to the Washington Post, Trump has privately said he would direct the Department of Justice to investigate officials from his first term who have since criticized his tenure, including:

  • Former White House chief of staff and retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly

  • Former Attorney General William P. Barr

  • Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark A. Milley

  • Former Trump White House special counsel Ty Cobb

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley in 2022. (Ting Shen/Xinhua via Getty Images)
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley in 2022. (Ting Shen/Xinhua via Getty Images)

According to his advisers, Trump intends to fire up to tens of thousands of career government professionals and replace them with his allies, and ​​will refuse to spend congressional appropriations on programs he opposes.

The New York Times has reported that Trump’s plans to crack down on illegal immigration will include:

  • Using military funds to erect detention camps

  • Using a public-health emergency law to shut down asylum requests at the border

  • Ending birthright citizenship for babies born in the U.S. to undocumented immigrants

Trump also reportedly plans to send the military into Mexico to combat drug cartels, with or without the Mexican government’s permission.

A number of high-profile Republican elected officials, conservative legal scholars and veterans of Trump’s first term in office have said Trump’s intentions would weaken the justice system and threaten the rule of law. Here are some of the most notable criticisms:

Former Rep. Liz Cheney, Republican from Wyoming

Former Rep. Liz Cheney.
Former Rep. Liz Cheney. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“He cannot be the next president, because if he is, all of the things that he attempted to do, but was stopped from doing by responsible people around him at the Department of Justice, at the White House Counsel’s Office, all of those things, he will do. There will be no guardrails.”

Sarah Matthews, a former Trump White House and campaign press aide

“His policies are not centered around improving the lives of his supporters or Americans in general, it’s centered around consolidating power for Trump, and that way he can wield it to enact that revenge on anyone he deems as an enemy. And that is what is scary.”

Former federal appeals court Judge Michael Luttig, appointed by President George H.W. Bush, and former assistant White House counsel under President Ronald Reagan

“I am more worried for America today than I was on January 6. … [Trump’s] election would be catastrophic for America’s democracy.”

Former Trump-appointed Attorney General Rod Rosenstein

“Making prosecutorial decisions in a nonpartisan manner is essential to democracy. The White House should not be meddling in individual cases for political reasons.”

Former Trump administration national security adviser John Bolton

National security adviser John Bolton in 2018.
National security adviser John Bolton in 2018. (Evan Vucci/AP)

“He doesn’t think in policy directions when he makes decisions, certainly in the national security space. It’s all connected with how things benefit Donald Trump. … In a second Trump term, we’d almost certainly withdraw from NATO.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, Republican from Utah and 2012 Republican nominee for president

“Donald Trump represents a failure of character, which is changing, I think, in many respects, the psyche of our nation and the heart of our nation. And that's something which takes a long time — if ever — to repair."