A central part of Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential bid is a promise to dismantle the «deep state.»

“Either the deep state destroys the United States or we destroy the deep state,” the former president declared in March at his first rally.

He has also vowed «revenge» on his political enemies, saying that if he returns to the White House «his reign will be over.»

Last month, Trump released a list of proposals to crack down on what many conservatives believe is a secret cabal of government workers who wield enormous power and work against Republicans. Many seemed personal, tied to past and present Trump investigations. They included cracking down on government whistleblowers, making troves of documents public, and creating independent auditors to monitor US intelligence agencies.

But it is the main proposal that worries public officials and excites conservative activists. And it’s something that Trump briefly implemented as president.

At the top of Trump’s list is the reinstatement of an executive order known as “Schedule F”, which would reclassify tens of thousands of federal employees involved in political decisions as at-will employees. In other words, they would lose their job protections and it would be much easier for a president to fire them.

And to give an idea of ​​how the policy might be used, the line immediately following Exhibit F is a promise to «review federal departments and agencies, firing all corrupt actors in our Homeland Security and Intelligence apparatus.»

The policy was instituted in the final weeks of the Trump administration, but not fully implemented. This time, if Trump were to return to the White House, there would be little delay.

However, the adoption of this proposal, or similar maneuvers, extends beyond Trump.

“I think Exhibit F is basically right-wing doctrine now,” said Russ Vought, the architect of Exhibit F when he was director of Trump’s Office of Management and Budget. «So I think someone sitting in that position doesn’t have the ability not to do this, like any other philosophy of government» widely embraced by conservatives.

“Schedule F is getting to the point where I can’t see anyone running on the Republican side not putting this on the line,” Vought, the president of the Center for the Renewal of Americacontinued a group of right-wing pundits.

In fact, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who in the polls is Trump’s most formidable potential presidential rival, devoted space in his recently released political memoirs to Exhibit F, writing positively about the policy and seemingly mildly critical of Trump. for not having instituted it earlier.

DeSantis, who has long criticized what he sees as excessive bureaucracy, used his executive power in Florida to assert broad authority, either by suspending a state attorney who was reluctant to prosecute abortion-related cases or efforts reform the state’s higher education system.

“Many hoped that the Donald Trump administration would rectify this by implementing a plan known as Exhibit F, which would re-characterize some fifty thousand federal employees who are involved in ‘policy determination, policy making, or policy advocacy’. ‘ as Effectively At-Will Employees Serving at the President’s Pleasure,” DeSantis wrote. «Thus, the president could fire federal employees who thwart his policies, thus dealing a blow to the idea that the bureaucracy is the fourth branch of government.»

Vivek Ramaswamy, a long-shot GOP presidential candidate, said he wants to go even further than Trump and doesn’t think an executive order is needed to enact his own platform to attack «the deep state,» which includes shutting down and replacing both. . the FBI and the IRS. Instead of reclassifying employees, Ramaswamy said, the powers vested in the Constitution and existing statutes can be read in a way that already gives presidents broad authority «to implement this type of change.»

“I think you already have that freedom, even without…Schedule F,” he said, describing the executive order as “smart” but “almost too humble in its goals.”

Republican officials have long bemoaned a federal bureaucracy they view as hostile to their initiatives, a sentiment that peaked during Trump’s tenure. The focus on career officials intensified during the covid pandemic, when Dr. Anthony Fauci, then the country’s top virus expert, became the bogeyman of the right.

Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit dedicated to effective federal government, said such proposals and the broader push among Republicans to fundamentally change how the civil service works are causing «quite a lot of anxiety in the federal workforce and in the broader community of organizations that are focused on trying to help our government work more effectively.”

He added that there is «a lot of uncertainty» about what could be accomplished simply through executive action and what would require congressional approval.

“The basic problem, really, is a lack of recognition of how critical a professionalized civil service is to getting good results for the American people,” Stier said.

«The contours are uncertain,» he added. «But certainly there is real damage that could occur.»

As president, Trump also clamped down on exercising power over the civil service. In 2019, his administration decided to relocate the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management, telling staff members they had to move to Colorado from Washington, DC, if they wanted to keep their jobs. Over 87% of employees affected decided to resign or retire, according to data from The Washington Post. (Stier noted that the vast majority of federal employees lives and works outside of the Washington, DC area).

Trump has recently called have all federal employees “pass a new civil service test” that aligns with their vision of how government should work and “put unelected bureaucrats back in their place.”

Of course, it also highlights his agenda to dismantle the «deep state» while denouncing «a very dark cloud» of investigations swirling around him. Prosecutors in New York, Atlanta and Washington, DC, are examining allegations that he tried to cover up secret money payments to women during his 2016 campaign (in connection with which he was indicted this month) and ousted the presidential election. of 2020, as well as its handling of classified documents.

Since then, Trump has also called on Republicans to «defund» the FBI and the Department of Justice.

«The American people should be shocked to learn that a twice-impeached, now-impeached former president is recycling his plans to strip the federal workforce of its independence and reshape the entire federal government into his own personal political machine,» the president said. representative Gerry Connolly. , D-Va., whose district is home to many federal employees, said in a statement. “Donald Trump does not want a government of, by and for the people. He wants a government of, by and for Donald Trump. I led the charge against his original Schedule F proposal and will continue to fight him every step of the way.»

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Not all Republicans are aligned with Trump on these issues. Speaking to reporters last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., rejected Trump’s call to defund federal police, saying: «We should be looking at ways to spend more on law enforcement.» law». Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is seeking the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, said in an interview that Trump’s political agenda «is more about getting revenge on his political enemies than leading our country, which worries me.»

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said he likes «a lot of what» Trump is proposing, because «you basically have massive unelected bureaucrats essentially running the country, and that has to change.»

But, he added, he would prefer Congress enact legislation rather than Trump acting solely on executive action should he be elected next year.

It’s «a great conversation to have,» Hawley said. “And I think there’s a lot to like about his proposal. And I think the best thing would be for Congress to step in and say, ‘Hey, let’s fix this legislatively.’”

On the surface, it is unlikely that such changes could make it through a Senate that requires 60 votes on most legislative efforts. But Vought said much of the agenda can be completed only through the executive branch, listing Schedule F, changing declassification standards, the background check process for security clearances or even the performance review process for security clearances. employees. He said it’s important to understand «the levers you have that aren’t legal changes.»

“There are all sorts of things that can be done without changes to the bylaws,” Vought said. «And I think that’s where we need to focus and then you go to Congress and ask for things that you don’t have.»

Stier stressed that safeguarding current civil service protections is not a partisan issue and that «many, many, many» Republicans support him.

“This is based on this really major misconception of this idea that public officials should be beholden to the current occupant of the White House, rather than being there to be the expert and professional supporters of whoever gets elected and, ultimately committed to the rule of law. and our Constitution,” he said. «It’s not about loyalty.»