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Welcome to the Post-Constitutional Era

Nowadays, everything has a timeout. If you leave your electronic device on the table too long, it turns itself off. If the bank sends you an SMS code to log in and you don't use it within 10 minutes, it becomes invalid. Donald Trump thinks that ought to apply to the Constitution. It has been around for 235 years and should have timed out at the 200 mark.

Christian Nationalist Russ Vought, who is a possible chief-of-staff in a new Trump administration, is working on plans for destroying constitutional guardrails. In an influential 2022 essay, he wrote: "We are in a post-constitutional moment in our country." He doesn't like the direction the country is headed and means to fix it by burning it all down. He is making plans for Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act and use the military to stamp out protests, to use the DoJ to prosecute Trump's rivals, and to refuse to spend money Congress has appropriated for programs Trump doesn't like. In short, he intends to greatly expand the powers of the presidency, knowing that Republicans in Congress won't stop him and neither will the Supreme Court, so de facto, there is no one to stop Trump from doing whatever he wants. Then the sky is the limit. His powers will make Vladimir Putin jealous.

Vought is the policy director for the 2024 platform committee, so the RNC is apparently going to have a platform this time. Last time, the RNC basically said: "We want whatever Donald Trump wants." Vought is also an important contributor to Project 2025's 920-page blueprint for Trump v2.0 and is developing a playbook for Trump's first 180 days in office. In addition, he is a strong supporter of Schedule F, which would fire 50,000 civil servants and replace them all with Trump flunkies. He wants hard-core disciples who will wage culture wars on abortion, immigration, and anything he deems woke. Vought's goal is to get the entire Republican Party behind these plans.

Many of Vought's plans are clearly unconstitutional (or, as he would say, post-constitutional). During Trump's term, the former president was impeached for refusing to give Ukraine weapons Congress had approved. However, Vought maintains that impounding funds Congress has appropriated is a legitimate part of the president's authority, even though the federal courts ruled that it was definitely not when Richard Nixon tried it. But that was before post-constitutionalism kicked in. If Trump wins but the Democrats control the House, we see more impeachments ahead. Maybe one a month.

Vought clearly means what he is saying. As director of OMB at the end of Trump's term, he worked to impede the transition to the Biden administration. He said he was not going to help dismantle the Trump administration's good work. There is something of a marriage of convenience between Vought and Trump. Vought has been an ideological warrior for decades. He sees a second Trump term as the way to achieve his goals. He is not involved (much) in winning the election but wants to make sure that if Trump wins, he can hit the ground running and start carrying out Vought's pet projects starting on Day 1.

Some of what Vought wants requires redefining terms—the opposite of what originalists on the Supreme Court want. For example, he wants to define the millions of people crossing the border illegally as an "invasion" and treat it the same way as if the Mexican army crossed the border in full battle gear and armed for a war. He also has argued for a "Christian immigration ethic" to filter the types of immigrants allowed. He is perhaps not aware that about 78% of Mexicans identify as Catholic and another 10% identify as Protestant. Is his true goal to block the (microscopic) flow of Mexican Jews into the U.S.?

Some Republicans may rue what they are saying now. Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said: "I think all too often already the Biden administration is showing they're not following the law as we put it down, and they're taking regulatory fiat and executive orders to a level that is very problematic and increasing the deficit. So no, I am not interested in giving them more power. I'm more interested in giving them less power." If Trump tries a power grab by either not spending money that Congress has appropriated or spending money on things Congress has not authorized, we will be interested in watching Hoeven squirm when reporters read back this quote to him. (V)

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