A More Mature MAGA Movement Prepares for Trump’s Return to DC

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What would the start of a second Trump term look like—and what sort of opposition would it face?

In search of answers, The Epoch Times interviewed veterans of the first Trump administration, reviewed writings from that time as well as the Trump campaign’s Agenda 47, and talked to those helping to provide a 2025 roadmap.

It seems the MAGA movement is now older, wiser, and better situated in Washington.

Pre-existing conservative institutions such as the Heritage Foundation have tilted in President Trump’s direction. The president will also have a deeper bench of possible appointees and real experience running the show. A more sympathetic Supreme Court and possible gains in Congress could also help him—and, unlike in 2016, the Republican establishment is consolidating behind his candidacy early in the primary season.

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Yet, many federal bureaucracies, legacy media organs, and other institutions can be counted on to put up resistance.

Additionally, the “sanctuary city” phenomenon—and, on the flip side, Republican states’ underreported solidarity with Texas in its battle with federal authorities over the border—offers a foretaste of how the Trump administration might clash with some cities, counties, and states during a second term.

And, as in the first term, neoconservatives, neoliberals, and other Washington non-neophytes who boast deep backgrounds in government but don’t share the MAGA vision may seek power for their own reasons.

During late 2016 and early 2017, the outsider that Americans elevated to the presidency faced multiple challenges as he met with immediate and unprecedented hostility from the establishment, including scrutiny from the outgoing Obama administration and the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation before he was even elected.

President Trump is still marching into gale-force winds—and if he reaches the Oval Office, he will have little time for rest and almost no room for error.

The Americans who vote for him will demand the swift, efficient execution of MAGA agenda items that lay the groundwork for a lasting legacy—what Stephen Bannon described to The Epoch Times as the starting point for “50 years of MAGA policies.”
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A woman takes a selfie before a campaign event with former President Donald Trump in Las Vegas on Jan. 27, 2024. (David Becker/Getty Images)

The Second Transition

If President Trump is elected on Nov. 5, he’ll have until Inauguration Day—Jan. 20, 2025—to manage the transition from the Biden administration to a second Trump term.

The first Trump transition was rocky. President Trump came to Washington as an outsider after winning an election he was widely expected to lose.

New York City was the real estate mogul’s home turf, not “the swamp” along the Potomac River. He and a small group of loyalists were starting from scratch in what, to many of them, was a strange and hostile town.

“We didn’t have a deep bench,” recalled Mr. Bannon, a member of the transition team in 2016 who later served as the White House’s chief strategist.

“He [Trump] wasn’t versed in how Washington does business,” K.T. McFarland, a Trump administration deputy national security advisor who previously worked in multiple Republican presidential administrations, told The Epoch Times.

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President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with President-elect Donald Trump following a meeting in the Oval Office in Washington on Nov. 10, 2016. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

While earlier presidents were comfortable recruiting from prior administrations in their same party, President Trump was hesitant to take in George W. Bush administration veterans, particularly in national security roles. According to Ms. McFarland, President Trump felt the Bush crew had failed on that score.

As evidence of how President Trump shook things up, she cited his call with the president of Taiwan during the transition period. Much of the establishment was aghast—but, on Ms. McFarland’s account, the president-elect recognized the country’s value as a trading partner.

In “The Fifth Risk,” journalist Michael Lewis depicts a chaotic transition period. One chapter opens by describing how Department of Energy staff members awaited a Trump team the day after the election, in line with prior administrations. Thirty parking spaces that were cleared for the victor remained vacant all day—the expected delegation never materialized.

At least some of Mr. Lewis’s sources are Obama political appointees who, a critic might note, count as less than impartial authorities on their political opponents. For instance, he quotes the department’s deputy secretary, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, who is now President Joe Biden’s homeland security advisor.

Lawyer Paul Dans said, although he wasn’t in the mix during the transition, he was “trying to knock on the door to get on the team.”

He said he had “a really hard time getting into the federal government” despite his prestigious credentials, which include multiple degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and stints at top law firms like Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP (later bought out by Locke Lord).

Mr. Dans ultimately served in multiple roles in the Trump administration, including as chief of staff for the crucial Office of Personnel Management (OPM)—the human resources hub for each presidential administration and the federal government as a whole.

Paul Dans, director of Project 2025, at the Heritage Foundation's leadership summit in National Harbor, Md., on April 20, 2023. (Terri Wu/The Epoch Times)
Paul Dans, director of Project 2025, at the Heritage Foundation’s leadership summit in National Harbor, Md., on April 20, 2023. (Terri Wu/The Epoch Times)

Mr. Dans now leads the Heritage Foundation’s 2025 Presidential Transition Project, or Project 2025, a coalition of more than 90 conservative organizations seeking to line up the right people, policies, and priorities well ahead of any coming transition period.

Their partners include credible, experienced MAGA policy shops such as the Center for Renewing America, a think tank led by former Trump Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought. Stephen Miller’s America First Legal is another coalition member. Their playbook, “A Mandate for Leadership,” is a hefty 920 pages.

The tome comes alongside other detailed instruction manuals for Republicans hoping to carry out a better presidential transition—for example, “Year Zero” by Chris Liddell, former White House deputy chief of staff under President Trump.

Mr. Dans’ own struggles hopping on the first “Trump train” have clearly influenced his thinking.

“It was really important in my view that the next president—and I believe that will be President Trump—needs to be supported by a team who knows Day One what the game plan is—that they’re brought in, and they’re trained, and they’re ready to go to work,” Mr. Dans told The Epoch Times.

Mr. Bannon talked about filling out a new Washington “ecosystem” more in keeping President Trump and his priorities than what came before.

“You have a broad base of super-competent people that are thinking these ideas through in a self-organizing way and will be there if the president is so inclined, but even if they’re not selected, they become part of this very important ecosystem in Washington, D.C.,” he said.

Steve Bannon, former adviser to President Donald Trump, arrives for a court appearance in New York on May 25, 2023. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
Steve Bannon, former adviser to President Donald Trump, arrives for a court appearance in New York on May 25, 2023. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Transition Teams

Mr. Dans described ideal candidates for the “army of conservatives” the project aims to train as, among other things, “personable” and “willing to keep driving and problem-solving.”

The first Trump transition may have been heavier on generals than foot soldiers—and many of the strong personalities clashed over difficult problems.

More than a few current foes of President Trump were left in the wake of those early days and months.

“The transition would become a breeding ground for creatures who would inhabit the Washington Swamp,” Anthony Scaramucci wrote in “Trump: The Blue-Collar President.” Mr. Scaramucci, who served little more than a week as White House communications director in 2017, is now an outspoken supporter of President Biden.

Mr. Bannon recounted that former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, now another intractable Trump foe, assembled the initial transition team after President Trump’s 2016 election.

The resulting work product was, Mr. Bannon said, “a joke” and easily discarded. Incoming Vice President Mike Pence, now also a Trump critic from time to time, replaced Mr. Christie at the helm of the transition effort.

“Ivanka [Trump], Jared [Kushner], and I were really pulling together to run the transition,” Mr. Bannon recalled. “The Obama administration was not particularly helpful in the transition.”

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(L–R) Senior advisors to President Trump, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, arrive for a signing ceremony for the United States–Mexico–Canada Trade Agreement on the South Lawn of the White House on Jan. 29, 2020. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

President Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Mr. Kushner, became fixtures of the Trump White House.

“There’s no question that Jared was very involved,” Mr. Spicer told The Epoch Times.

Mr. Spicer, who, after working on the transition team, served as the first press secretary, noted Sen. Bill Haggerty’s (R-Tenn.) involvement in making key appointments.

Mr. Spicer was among the more politically experienced people in the room, having previously served as the Republican National Committee’s communications director. But multiple memoirs covering the transition and early administration took aim at Mr. Spicer, including Trump official Cliff Sims’ “Team of Vipers” and journalist Jonathan Karl’s “Front Row at the Trump Show.”

Mr. Bannon is also criticized by some memoirists. Mr. Karl, the journalist, noted he was a “surprisingly accessible source.”

For his part, the former White House chief strategist said the clash of personalities early on was a positive, comparing it to the “team of rivals” in President Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet.

An anonymous Trump administration insider told The Epoch Times they found the involvement of the Boston Consulting Group in the first transition particularly jarring. The company is one of the Big Three management consulting firms and, like both McKinsey & Company and Bain & Company, a potent symbol of the establishment.

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President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office of the White House on Jan. 28, 2017. Also pictured (L–R) White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, press secretary Sean Spicer and National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“It was ridiculous. It was the biggest fraud of the Trump presidency,” the insider said, claiming that “the political loyalists had to defer to them [Boston Consulting Group].”

Mr. Spicer told The Epoch Times he had not heard of any firm affiliates’ involvement in the transition. Yet reporting from the time identifies Boston Consulting Group staff on the transition team.

The group was also a part of the Trump–Biden transition.

A joint report from the group and the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition claims the two parties “played crucial roles in assisting all three of the major stakeholder groups throughout the 2020–21 transition.”
“Throughout 2020, we were able to build trusted relationships and provide critical support to three main audiences—the Biden transition team, Trump administration, and career agency officials,” a more detailed report from the Center for Presidential Transition reads. It describes Boston Consulting Group as “our anchor partner on the transition.”

The First Days in Power

Kicking off the first term was President Trump’s inauguration speech.

A comparison between Mr. Kushner’s account of the speech and Mr. Karl’s version reveals just how differently the same few words resonated to different audiences.

While Mr. Kushner’s memoir quoted lines about the “forgotten men and women” of America, Mr. Karl, the political journalist, described the speech as “a direct affront” to the former presidents and first ladies gathered around the incoming leader. President Trump, he said, “essentially accused the very people on the stage with him of betraying the American people.”

Mr. Kushner recalled the opening of President Trump’s first term in his memoir, “Breaking History.”

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders talks to journalists outside the White House in Washington on April 2, 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

During the first few days on the job, every hour felt like a race. The policy team rushed to draft dozens of executive orders so that the president could follow through on his campaign promises. The press team cycled through an onslaught of inquiries… I tried to navigate the unfamiliar realm of government, which seemed to be filled with endless processes and obstacles designed to prevent anything from getting done,” Mr. Kushner wrote.

Like his father-in-law, Mr. Kushner was the scion of a real estate dynasty.

In “Speaking for Myself,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders recounts arriving at the White House on Inauguration Day in an unmarked white van, the second of multiple waves of personnel ferried into the president’s residence from the transition office.

“The three-minute drive felt like an hour,” she said.

In “The Briefing,” his own memoir of his time in the White House, Mr. Spicer recalled an early test of his skill as a public face of the Trump administration. A reporter falsely claimed on Twitter that the White House had removed a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. from the Oval Office, an assertion the reporter later corrected.

“You had the pool reporter trying to make a race issue,” Mr. Spicer told The Epoch Times.

But while the MLK bust was quickly forgotten, the news cycle was dominated by the debate over the size of the crowd at the Trump inauguration, culminating in Kellyanne Conway’s notorious talk of “alternative facts” and, in short order, a master narrative from the press: the Trump administration was deceptive. Reporting on the administration rapidly trended in a very negative direction.

Mr. Spicer’s memoir highlighted an analysis from Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center that revealed just how hostile the media really was to the new kids on the block.

“Trump’s coverage was unsparing. In no week did the coverage drop below 70 percent negative and it reached 90 percent negative at its peak,” the analysis reads.

“There is a lot of framing that the media does, right or wrong, about some of the nominees and some of the announcements that are being made. They definitely can have a huge impact on how the public is perceiving that transition,” Mr. Spicer told The Epoch Times.

Kash Patel, former chief of staff at the Department of Defense and former deputy director of national intelligence, said the media is “partially responsible for some of the biggest disinformation campaigns in U.S. history, from Russiagate to Hunter Biden’s laptop.” 

While he didn’t get specific, Mr. Patel said “there needs to be some mechanism in which those that participated are held accountable.”

The Trump team and its Republican allies may or may not have a ready answer for the negative media coverage that would be expected to blanket the airwaves and make life harder for everyday Americans who support MAGA. But on policy and execution, answers are forthcoming.

“I think President Trump’s first days will be very dramatic. I think on the afternoon of the 20th, you’ll see some very dramatic executive orders signed—just like last time,” Mr. Bannon said.

He anticipates key moves, including “tariffs across the board, sealing the border, mass deportations, [and] starting to rethink our geopolitical alliances.”

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Illegal immigrants wait next to razor wire after crossing the Rio Grande into El Paso, Texas, on Feb. 1, 2024. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Both he and Ms. McFarland said President Trump doesn’t intend to disband NATO. Mr. Bannon argued that the former president merely wants to change it “from a protectorate, which it is now, to a true alliance where the Europeans actually pull their weight.”

“I think President Trump could solve the Ukrainian situation in 72 hours,” Mr. Bannon added.

While President Biden’s support to expand NATO to include Sweden and Finland has received plaudits from some quarters, Mr. Patel had a simple question: “At what cost?”

“The border is paramount,” said Mr. Dans, of Project 2025.

President Trump’s proposed immigration-related executive orders could include one to end birthright citizenship, a promise he made in his first term. He has also vowed to wage “war on cartels” using the U.S. Navy, special forces, and other means.

President Trump has also made American energy a key focus during his campaign, naming it alongside the border as a critical issue during his first few hours in the White House.

His talk of closing the border and “drilling, drilling, drilling,” came after he jested that he would be a dictator “but only on the first day,” sparking another in a long series of media firestorms.

Ms. McFarland explained that Trump foreign and energy policies are bound together. She said that thanks to the shale oil revolution, Americans can be less reliant on the Middle East, undercutting much of the rationale for “forever wars” in the region while also undermining petroleum-powered Russia’s ability to wage war on its neighbors by driving down the global price of oil.

She likened President Trump to President Ronald Reagan, saying both men were “not trigger happy.”

Dan Epstein, a law professor at St. Thomas University, who served as special assistant to the president, pointed to three key executive orders: EO 13891, EO 13892, and EO 13924 that President Trump signed while in the Oval Office.

The first made it clear that guidance documents from agencies are not law, while the second was aimed at transparency, and the third included the 10-item “principles of fairness” in administrative law—what Mr. Epstein called a “regulatory bill of rights.”

President Biden rescinded them all soon after taking office.
“So few political commentators [and] academic commentators actually recognize what Trump did that was so transformative from an administrative law perspective,” Mr. Epstein said, crediting Cass Sunstein, a former Obama administration regulatory official, for writing positively about some of those contributions.

“These were good government executive orders. They improved the course of how the government treats private citizens,” Mr. Epstein said, adding that President Trump could reinstate equivalent EOs in a second term.

Mr. Dans said that Project 2025 marks “a restoration of our core democratic principles,” in part by bringing more jobs under presidential control.

The work of Jennifer Mascott, a law professor at George Mason University’s Scalia Law School, could provide some insights into how that might cash out.

Jennifer Mascott, a professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School in George Mason University, testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 29, 2021. (Tom Williams/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Jennifer Mascott, a professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School in George Mason University, testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 29, 2021. (Tom Williams/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
In a 2018 article for the Stanford Law Review, Ms. Mascott said that “officers of the United States,” a category of federal official defined by Article II of the Constitution, is much broader than has long been thought, “encompassing any government official with responsibility for an ongoing governmental duty.”

That matters because “officers of the United States” are appointed by the president. Ms. Mascott’s interpretation would significantly enlarge the pool of executive branch employees that the president could hire and fire.

The insider forecasted an executive order aimed at reorganizing the executive branch, slotting “all independent agencies into cabinet-level departments”—for example, placing the National Archives and Records Administration and the Office of Special Counsel under the authority of OPM or the General Services Administration (GSA).

The insider predicts that Congress wouldn’t move quickly to assert authority over those agencies.

“I think the Trump administration simply has some frank talk with the Congress and says, ‘Listen, you have quite simply abdicated your legislative responsibility. And so, you have every ability to respond to my executive reorganization order with a legislative reorganization order… But my bet is that you have abdicated so much of your legislative and democratic responsibility over the last several decades that you won’t do that. And then I’m essentially calling your bluff,’” the insider said.

Mr. Bannon anticipated that President Trump’s executive orders would be reinforced by law through Congress by the “end of the first year [or] second year” of the second term.

“It’s always good to work in harmony with Congress,” Mr. Patel said, before criticizing the proposed Senate border deal, which includes billions for Ukraine and Israel.

“What Congress produced is a border bill masquerade, which is in reality a ‘go fund the Ukraine war’ bill,” he said.

Trump insiders said that many of President Trump’s executive orders simply amounted to spelling out, and enforcing, the law as written.

“Those executive orders didn’t add anything new to the law. They simply stated the extent of the law that was already extant,” Mr. Epstein said.

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President Donald Trump holds up a signed executive order issued to combat anti-Semitism, in the White House on Dec. 11, 2019. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Mr. Bannon said, as far as the border is concerned, “Ninety percent of this goes away if you just enforce the laws on the books.”

Another concern for Trump appointees: the minority of career staff who will set up roadblocks or take other steps to sabotage the administration’s policies.

Mr. Dans had a word of advice for personnel who don’t want to be hornswoggled by entrenched bureaucrats.

“If you just sometimes pause and ask a lot of the current officers, ‘Can you direct me to where in the statute supports this proposition that we have to do X?’ or ‘Where is the basis for this found?’ Oftentimes, the answer boils down to, ‘That’s how we’ve always done it.’ And that’s not a rationale for anything,” he said.

Meeting the #Resistance

After President Trump won the election, the “Resistance” movement was born, complete with a hashtag (#Resist) that spread like wildfire on pre-Elon Musk Twitter.

The Crossfire Hurricane investigation, well-timed leaks, and well-publicized protests were just a few early symptoms of the liberal establishment’s reaction to President Trump and his supporters.

By late May and early June 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrators angered over the death of George Floyd were hurling objects at the White House gates and, in some cases, attempting to scale the building’s perimeter.

Half a year before many journalists declared the U.S. Capitol breach on Jan. 6, 2021, an insurrection, media outlets seemed to mock the president as he and his family were threatened by street-level violent actors.

“As Protests and Violence Spill Over, Trump Shrinks Back” reads a May 31, 2020, headline in the New York Times, while protesters were attacking the gates of the White House and a few days before protesters breached temporary fencing around the president’s official residence.

“He [Trump] is now very aware of the extent to which the swamp—the establishment—will go to try to stop him,” Ms. McFarland said.

How will President Trump handle a system still dead set against him?

He may have more support from Congress, depending on how the 2024 races play out. In the Senate, many more Democratic seats are up for grabs than Republican seats, opening up opportunities for Republicans to reclaim the chamber. GOP control of the Senate would make it easier for President Trump to make about 1,200 appointments that need to advance through that body (fewer than 3,000 presidential appointments do not require Senate confirmation).
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President Donald Trump delivers his inaugural address on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 20, 2017. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Republicans may also be able to hang onto their slim House majority—but that outcome is likewise far from guaranteed. That’s not to mention impediments from Republicans in those chambers like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). But attitudes may have changed.

“I think President Trump is going to be much more bold with the Senate,” the anonymous Trump insider said, suggesting he would be “much more willing to say, ‘Look, you’re going to confirm my people.’”

The insider predicted that a second Trump term would go down in history as “the most iconoclastic presidency since FDR.”

The anonymous insider repeatedly returned to the Supreme Court, which now has three Trump appointees, as a backstop for executive orders that are likely to be controversial.

While Trump backers are getting a handle on personnel and policy, it’s less obvious how they’ll respond to other elements of Washington’s entrenched bureaucracy—in particular, leaks and the predictable media-friendly demonstrations.

“I trust the right people will put a plan in place to root out corruption and demand accountability at every level,” Mr. Patel said.

If, however, early executive orders bring various federal bureaucracies under more direct presidential control, politically motivated leaks could be less frequent and less damaging to the Trump team.

Back in Mason City, Iowa—more than 1,000 miles northwest of Washington—Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow, said President Trump is creating a to-do list aimed at “reversing” many of President Biden’s moves.

Mr. Lindell told The Epoch Times he encouraged the former commander-in-chief.

“Sir, God picked you for such a time as this. And God is working through you. You’ll get it done better than it ever was,” he recalled telling President Trump.

In less than 12 months, the man that permanent Washington didn’t see coming could get his second first 100 days in the White House. Americans will pay close attention to the results.

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