Know Your Enemy: Building a “Better” Trump Administration

Know Your Enemy: Building a “Better” Trump Administration

Matt and Sam explore how movement conservatives—and their think tanks—are preparing for a second Trump administration.

Trump at a rally in New Hampshire on January 22 (Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

Know Your Enemy is a podcast about the American right co-hosted by Matthew Sitman and Sam Adler-Bell. Read more about it here. You can subscribe to, rate, and review the show on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher, and receive bonus content by supporting the podcast on Patreon.

As listeners might have noticed, 2024 is a presidential election year, and already the prospect of Donald Trump returning to power is looming over the campaign and the media’s coverage of it. In a second term, Trump has promised to weaponize the Justice Department to punish his enemies, deconstruct major portions of the administrative state, and mobilize the largest deportation force in U.S. history—to cleanse the nation of immigrants who, as Trump says, “are poisoning the blood of our country.”

The key to achieving these goals, conservatives believe, is ensuring that this time—unlike in 2016—Trump is surrounded by the right people: populist true believers who are sufficiently loyal and sufficiently competent to implement his extreme agenda. “Personnel is policy” is the watchword. And think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the America First Policy Institute (AFPI) are busy building rival rosters of ideologically vetted political appointees. (And pissing each other off in the process.)

This episode explores how movement conservatives are refashioning the “conservative pipeline” for an anti-establishment era—through their efforts to recruit, credential, and train political professionals for a second Trump term. The question is: can these initiatives overcome the candidate’s own erratic style, his weakness for sycophancy, his preference for hiring devoted courtiers over disciplined ideologues? If push came to shove, would Trump submit to the Heritage Foundation’s plans for his presidential transition? Or would he resent being managed by these self-understood “adults in the room”?

In other words, can the eggheads of the conservative movement clean up the mess that is MAGA? Or is that just another intellectual fantasy? After all, as we often say on Know Your Enemy: “MAGA is the mess.”

Sources and further reading:

Sam Adler-Bell, The Shadow War to Determine the Next Trump Administration, New York Times (2024)

Isaac Arnsdorf, Josh Dawsey, and Devlin Barrett, Trump and allies plot revenge, Justice Department control in a second term, Washington Post (2023)

Charlie Savage, Maggie Haberman, and Jonathan Swan, Sweeping Raids, Giant Camps and Mass Deportation: Inside Trump’s 2025 Immigration Plans, New York Times (2023)

Jonathan D. Karl, The Man Who Made January 6 Possible, Atlantic (2021)

Zachary Petrizzo, Trumpworld Is Already at War Over Staffing a New Trump White House, Daily Beast (2023)

Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen, Behind the Curtain — Scoop: The Trump job applications revealed, Axios (2023)

Ian Ward, The Brash Group of Young Conservatives Getting Ready for the Next Trump Administration, Politico (2023)

Michael Hirsh, Inside the Next Republican Revolution, Politico (2023)

Dylan Riley, What Is Trump? New Left Review (2018)

Timothy Snyder, Not a Normal Election, Commonweal (2020)

 

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