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Russ Vought and the paranoid style


If you want a preview of what another Trump term would look like, check out his former head of the Office of Management and Budget, Russ Vought:

Longtime readers of this column might remember previous coverage of Vought in his current role leading the Center for Renewing America, a think tank that has been advising congressional Republicans and acting as a jobs program for former Trump administration B-listers. It was Vought who encouraged congressional Republicans to hold the debt ceiling hostage, a failed strategy that ended with the ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. His organization also pushed the GOP to focus on cutting funding to the “woke and weaponized government.” Vought himself personally circulated an alternative budget on Capitol Hill that included “$2 trillion in cuts to Medicaid, the health program for the poor; more than $600 billion in cuts to the Affordable Care Act; more than $400 billion in cuts to food stamps; hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to educational subsidies; and a halving of the State Department and the Labor Department, among other federal agencies,” as the Post documented last year.

It’s a testament to Vought’s growing policy influence that the Heritage Foundation tapped him to write the chapter on the Executive Office of the President in “Project 2025,” a massive blueprint for the next GOP president to follow. He is also putting together the initiative’s “playbook for the first 180 days” of a second Trump term, the Post reported

Vought is an avowed Christian nationalist, which in the context of Trumpism is basically fascism carrying a cross and an American flag:

Christian nationalists in America believe that the country was founded as a Christian nation and that Christian values should be prioritized throughout government and public life. As the country has become less religious and more diverse, Vought has embraced the idea that Christians are under assault and has spoken of policies he might pursue in response.

One document drafted by CRA staff and fellows includes a list of top priorities for CRA in a second Trump term. “Christian nationalism” is one of the bullet points. Others include invoking the Insurrection Act on Day One to quash protests and refusing to spend authorized congressional funds on unwanted projects, a practice banned by lawmakers in the Nixon era.

Then there’s this outburst of pure paranoia and projection, which Vought published in 2022:

Statesmanship in a post-constitutional moment

We are in a post constitutional moment in our country. Our constitutional institutions, understandings, and practices have all been transformed, over decades, away from the words on the paper into a new arrangement—a new regime if you will—that pays only lip service to the old Constitution. Our system is now much more like an unwritten constitution which operates based on precedents, like the English system. No constitutional amendments have been passed to enact this, but new legal paradigms have been introduced—a “living constitution,” independent agencies, permanent, “expert” civil servants—that have changed the underlying separation of powers at the core of our system. How did this come to be? The Left at the turn of the nineteenth century were loud critics of the Constitution. Woodrow Wilson wanted an efficient, modern administrative state run by experts that could not be slowed by the Constitution’s separations of powers. He complained that the trouble with the theory of checks and balances, “is that government is not machine, but a living thing. . .. No living thing can have its organs offset against each other, as checks, and live.” But these complaints largely stopped during the historical developments of the twentieth century, and there is rarely any talk of a constitutional amendment on the Left. Why is that? Because the Left quietly adopted a strategy of institutional change that left the constitutional system of separate powers in place but radically perverted how they operated, their incentive structures, and their responsiveness to the American people. The Left’s legal theorists adopted an approach to interpreting the Constitution based on it being a “living” document, meaning that its provisions should be understood to be malleable, keeping up with a modernizing nation. This was married with increased power assumed by courts, and the notion that nine supreme court justices would make all final decisions without any response from the other branches. Congress created so-called “independent agencies” such as the Federal Reserve or the SEC, meant to be independent from the direction of an elected president, but this principle impacted all the agencies, with career civil servants protected from at-will employment.

The death of Queen Elizabeth II has given us a vivid picture of where the Left is trying to go. An executive in a monarch with massive historic grandeur and symbolism and no remaining authority. A parliament where a Cabinet of MPs head the departments of state, staffed by career civil servants with purported expertise. The Left in the U.S. doesn’t want an energetic president with the power to bend the executive branch to the will of the American people. They don’t want a vibrant Congress where great questions are debated and decided in front of the American people and the tradeoffs made there. They don’t want empowered members. They want discouraged and bored back benchers. They want all-empowered career “experts” like Tony Fauci to wield power behind the curtains. And in America, the scary part is that this regime is now increasingly arrayed against the American people. It is both woke and weaponized. The national security state, with organs like the FBI, NSA, and CIA, are aligned against the American people, who are outraged by this revolution they never assented to. The FBI is investigating concerned parents attending open school board meetings as domestic terrorists. They are putting political opponents in jail. The NSA is surveilling the conversations of citizens. Therefore, the hour is late and time is of the essence to expose the charade, rally the country against it toward self-government once again, and seize every leverage point to arrest the damage.

The good news is that it’s not too late. We have 75 million voting citizens and more each day. We have nearly 30 Republican governors where red state sanctuaries can be created. We are on the cusp of Republican majorities in the House and Senate. We have institutions like the Center for Renewing America fighting every day to break the political cartels, while providing an ark for those exercising courageous leadership. And we have the reality revealed by the Left’s fight against Donald Trump and his movement. They know it is an existential threat to their regime. If it wasn’t a threat, they would not care. And the lengths they are going to even now shows we have some remaining time. But the long, difficult road ahead of returning to our beloved Constitution starts with being honest with ourselves. It starts by recognizing that we are living in a post-Constitutional time.”

It’s hard to overstate how radical people like Vought are. Sam Alito is right about at least one thing: between this vision and liberal democracy there can be no compromise, and only one victor. These are the stakes, and anybody who doesn’t want to live in either Evangelical Gilead or the Empire of our Lady of Guadeloupe needs to understand that.

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