What would the start of a second Trump term look like—and what sort of opposition would it face?
It seems the MAGA movement is now older, wiser, and better situated in Washington.
Preexisting conservative institutions such as The Heritage Foundation have tilted in former President Donald Trump’s direction. The former 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.
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 whom 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 2nd TransitionIf 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 adviser who previously worked in multiple Republican presidential administrations, told The Epoch Times.
While earlier presidents were comfortable recruiting from prior administrations in the 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 adviser.
Lawyer Paul Dans said that 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 such as 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.
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. Project 2025 doesn’t officially endorse any presidential candidate.
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’s 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 spoke 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,” he said.
Transition TeamsMr. 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 “a joke” and easily discarded, Mr. Bannon said. 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, Jared, and I were really pulling together to run the transition,” Mr. Bannon said. “The Obama administration was not particularly helpful in the transition.”
President Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner became fixtures of the Trump White House.
“There’s no question that Jared was very involved,” Sean 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’s “Team of Vipers” and journalist Jonathan Karl’s “Front Row at the Trump Show.”
Mr. Bannon is also criticized by some memoirists. Mr. Karl 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 that the involvement of the Boston Consulting Group in the first transition was 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.
“It was ridiculous. It was the biggest fraud of the Trump presidency,” the insider said of the consulting group’s involvement, claiming that “the political loyalists had to defer to them.”
The group was also a part of the Trump–Biden transition.
The 1st Days in PowerKicking 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 with 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.”
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.
“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.
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.”
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 said.
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,” Mr. Dans, of Project 2025, said.
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.”
The first made it clear that guidance documents from agencies aren’t law, 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.”
“These were good government executive orders. They improved the course of how the government treats private citizens.”
Mr. Epstein said that President Trump could reinstate equivalent executive orders 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.
Mr. Bannon said that as far as the border is concerned, “90 percent of this goes away if you just enforce the laws on the books.”
Another concern for Trump appointees is that a minority of career staff 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.
Meeting the #ResistanceAfter 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.
“[President 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?
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 such as 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 will 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, 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.