Updated Apr 20, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Trump’s new strong-man agenda as legal woes mount

Illustration of a gavel intersecting the zero in "2024", in the style of Donald Trump's campaign branding.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Former President Trump's anger at his legal problems now dominates his grievance-driven campaign, fueling a tear-it-all-down agenda that seeks to make him the most powerful chief executive in generations.

Why it matters: Trump continues to blast prosecutors, witnesses against him, political foes and others — but recently he's tapped into a heated mix of old and new rhetoric to describe how he'd attack what he calls the "deep state."

  • In criticizing the Manhattan DA who charged him with 34 criminal counts, Trump last week vowed "sweeping" investigations of "Marxist prosecutors," with an eye toward replacing them with conservatives.
  • He proposed giving the president the authority to hire and fire federal workers at will — not a new idea, but now part of a broad effort to "clean out" investigators and officials he sees as disloyal or who have questioned his conduct.
  • Trump's also called for an auditing system to “continually monitor our intelligence agencies to ensure they are not spying on our citizens or running disinformation campaigns ... like they spied on my campaign,” he said, reprising a complaint from his 2016 run.
  • And in a furious burst of messages on social media after his arraignment in New York this month, Trump made many Republicans in Congress blanche by calling on them to "defund" the Department of Justice and the FBI.

What they're saying: "This is the 2024 version of drain the swamp. This is a more detailed, more explicit, more nuanced, more targeted version of drain the swamp," said Justin Sayfie, a former spokesman for Jeb Bush, an ex-Florida governor and former Trump rival.

  • "It's a remarkable statement about the lack of confidence in our federal government, justice system and intelligence community, the fact that he's attempting to win the presidency by explicitly making that a part of his agenda."

Trump's campaign — which has sought to make his 2024 effort more issues-oriented than previous campaigns — doesn't see his angry attacks on the government and prosecutors as a negative.

  • "Trump getting indicted sends the signal to our voters that the system doesn’t want Trump," a person close to the campaign told Axios.
  • "Our voters hate the system, they hate the swamp. They hate all these people. So Trump’s campaign, after he got indicted, now just seems so much more important."

The big picture: Trump's grievance messages could get even hotter.

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