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Trump could be U.S. president again. Here’s what he plans to do if he wins

There’s been abundant attention this summer to Donald Trump's criminal quandaries; not so much to his presidential bid. It may be time to take a closer look at a platform filled with threats of punishment for his adversaries — both at home and abroad.

Platform is permeated with proposals that would punish adversaries, at home and abroad

Silhouette of Trump

There's been abundant international attention this summer to Donald Trump's copious criminal quandaries; not so much to his presidential bid.

It may be time to start paying attention.

Trump is not just the overwhelming favourite to win the Republican presidential nomination; early polling for next year's general election suggests he could win that, too.

In fact, he's running neck-and-neck against U.S. President Joe Biden and his polling is better than at any point in the 2020 cycle, where he lost by a hair in several swing states.

So his plans for the presidency are no longer hypothetical — despite Jan. 6, despite his 91 criminal charges in four jurisdictions, and despite the chance he could become the first general-election candidate in over a century to run from a prison cell.

WATCH | The 91 charges against Trump:

Trump facing 91 criminal charges across 4 cases

27 days ago

Duration 1:35

Donald Trump has been indicted in Georgia on charges that he orchestrated a plot to overthrow the 2020 election results. The former U.S. president now faces 91 criminal charges across four different cases.

His newest campaign platform goes farther than past ones on multiple fronts: in its nationalism, its economic populism, and its evident punitive streak. Early contours of his plan put adversaries on notice, with warnings to Biden, federal officials and others they'll be investigated.

"It would definitely be radical in terms of some of its implications," said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston who studies the presidency.

He says Trump's promises definitely promote a stronger presidency in a system that's "supposed to balance power."

The domestic agenda

Vengeance: It's a recurring theme in the platform. On his first day in office, Trump says he'd appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Biden and his family's revenues.

He also wants a truth-and-reconciliation commission to expose what he says are misdeeds against him and others by the U.S. national-security apparatus. He wants reforms to surveillance rules and says: "I will shatter the deep state."

Hunter Biden in a suit

He appeared to suggest at a campaign rally that, since he's been prosecuted unfairly, in his opinion, he could do the same to his opponents.

"That means that if I win and somebody wants to run against me, I call my attorney general and I say, 'Listen, indict him!' " Trump said in a speech last Friday in South Dakota.

"[If the attorney general says], 'Well, he hasn't done anything wrong,' [I'll say], 'I don't know, indict him on income-tax evasion. You'll figure it out.' "

For his own allies, he promises clemency, saying he wants to pardon a large portion of the rioters from the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Firing civil servants: Trump allies want to overhaul the federal bureaucracy. They're already working to replace civil servants with more like-minded ones.

Trump wants to fire civil servants under a plan he started in 2020. when he signed an executive order to reclassify up to 50,000 bureaucrats as political staff in order to strip them of job protections. The order was cancelled by Biden, but Trump aims to bring it back.

Critics say it amounts to a declaration of war on the civil service.

Laura Blessing, an expert on the presidency and Congress at Georgetown University, predicted a court fight.

"He would be sued over it," she said, noting the plan could also have a potential chilling effect on civil servants, with bureaucrats scared to execute orders they might consider unlawful.

Transgender care: Trump wants to curtail gender-affirming care for minors. He wants hospitals and doctors cut off from federal health funding if they participate in transitioning treatment for minors.

He also wants the Department of Justice to investigate pharmaceutical companies and hospital networks that may be promoting the treatment, encourage lawsuits against doctors who provide it and penalize teachers and schools that encourage it.

Death penalty: Trump used to muse to aides in private that drug dealers should get the death penalty. Now, it's part of his platform.

He wants drug dealers and human traffickers executed as part of a punishment-heavy justice platform, a sign of the changing politics since he signed a more lenient justice-reform bill in 2018.

A uniformed prison guard wearing rubber gloves gestures at a prisoner with his hands cuffed behind his back to follow him. A row of cells runs along the right wall and another guard stands beside an open cell door.

Expanding the federal death penalty to new crimes would require an act of Congress. The last such expansion happened in 1994 and there's no certainty any future Congress would help Trump introduce this.

"The president's not just an executioner with a big scythe," Rottinghaus said. "You would have to have authorization and work through due process on this to make it true policy."

War on drugs – literally: When he was president, Trump inquired about the possibility of firing missiles into Mexico to destroy drug labs, according to his former defence secretary. Bombing Mexico is now becoming an increasingly popular idea among Republican candidates.

Trump's platform isn't quite that explicit. He does propose military strikes against cartels, using special forces. Experts say a president could almost certainly authorize a cross-border strike without congressional approval.

"He has a relatively free hand to do a lot of this," Blessing said, while noting it would have huge diplomatic and trade repercussions.

On U.S. soil, Trump proposes deploying the National Guard against drug gangs, which experts are more doubtful is achievable.

End birthright citizenship: Trump would end citizenship rights for children born on U.S. soil to undocumented parents – a radical change in interpreting the Constitution's birthright citizenship clause.

Trump promises to sign an executive order that would block federal agencies from issuing these children passports and other national documents, like Social Security cards.

"My policy will choke off a major incentive for continued illegal immigration [and] deter more migrants from coming," Trump says.

Crowd around Trump

The courts would almost certainly stop Trump, Blessing and Rottinghaus predicted, saying the legal precedent for birthright citizenship is strong.

"You would have an immediate injunction," Rottinghaus said. "And then there would be a lengthy court battle."

Also on migration, he promises to use an old law to bar "Marxists" from entering the U.S., which some observers say could primarily affect card-carrying members of China's Communist Party elite.

Homelessness crackdown: Trump says he would force homeless people off city streets. He would ban urban camping and offer violators two options: receive treatment and rehabilitation in newly constructed encampments, or face arrest.

He says he would also bring back mental asylums, with the goal of treating and releasing people.

Washington could offer cities and states funding for programs like this, according to Blessing, but she said there's no role for federal officials scouring U.S. cities to get people off the streets.

Punishing tech: Trump is angry over how he and members of his campaign were treated on tech and social platforms during the 2020 election. Now, he wants to see them punished.

He wouldn't simply cut off funding for fighting so-called misinformation; he would identify and fire bureaucrats engaged in what he calls censorship.

A person holds up a phone with the twitter logo while looking at a computer screen displaying Donald Trump's Twitter account.

Trump says he would order the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute any violations of federal civil-rights law, election law and securities and anti-trust laws.

He is also threatening tech companies with the removal of their historic protections against libel lawsuits if they censor people, something that would require Congress to pass a law.

End racial equity programs: Trump would cancel programs aimed at race and gender equity created by Biden, citing those aimed at non-white farmers and restaurant owners.

He would also fire federal staffers involved in these programs and ask Congress to create a restitution fund for other Americans he says were discriminated against.

Restore an old presidential power: He would fight for more presidential control over the federal budget. Remember Trump's first impeachment? It started with him withholding military aid for Ukraine, previously approved by Congress; he was pressing the Ukrainian government to investigate the Biden family's business dealings.

In doing this, Trump was found to be violating the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act. Now he promises a fight to overturn that law.

Trump wants to be able to refuse to spend money appropriated by Congress. Blessing said it was "highly unlikely" the plan would succeed, predicting opposition from the courts and Congress.

Investigate pharma companies: In a seeming nod to anti-vaxxers, Trump has promised a presidential commission into what's driving a rise in childhood ailments.

He mentioned autism and a number of other ailments, and while listing several possible causes he appeared to specifically single out pharmaceutical companies.

"Our public health establishment is too close to big pharma," he said. "If big pharma defrauds American patients and taxpayers or puts profits above people, they must be investigated and held accountable."

The international agenda

Re-evaluate NATO: Under Trump, the current president's frequent extolling of U.S. alliances would seem like a distant memory. Last time he was in office, Trump derided those allies as deadbeats and reportedly talked to his own staff about leaving NATO.

Former aide John Bolton predicts Trump would almost certainly leave the alliance if elected again. Trump's platform doesn't quite go that far, but does promise to fundamentally reevaluate NATO's purpose and mission.

NATO leaders on podium with Ukraine's Zelensky

Trump castigates U.S. foreign-policy thinkers for encouraging the conflict with Russia, and generally downplays Russia as a problem.

"The greatest threat to Western Civilization today is not Russia," he said. "It's probably, more than anything else, ourselves and some of the horrible, U.S.A.-hating people that represent us."

Ukraine: Few nations will be watching this U.S. election as closely as Ukraine.

Trump constantly criticizes U.S. efforts to defend the country against the Russian invasion. He says he'd demand compensation from Europe for the massive amounts of military hardware the U.S. has delivered.

He's called for pausing Ukraine funding for a variety of reasons.

A funeral procession with a Ukrainian flag over a casket

Trump also insists he'd immediately bring peace to Ukraine, telling Fox News he'd force Ukraine and Russia to make a peace pact within 24 hours of his election. The solution he's hinted at is for Ukraine to cede chunks of its eastern territory.

Trump's position is that anything is better than escalating hostilities between two nuclear powers, the U.S. and Russia.

"Every day this proxy battle in Ukraine continues, we risk global war," he said. "All shooting has to stop."

Trade and tariffs: Trump promises an even harder line on trade than in his first term.

He's promising a universal baseline tariff — an import penalty on most products. And he says he'd raise them much higher for countries with their own high tariffs.

A string of cars in front of a Canadian flag

A president could introduce temporary global tariffs of up to 15 per cent under the Trade Act of 1974, according to trade lawyer Charles Benoit. Also, Trump can and has introduced additional tariffs citing national security.

Benoit, who is with a pro-domestic manufacturing group aligned with Trump's trade policies, predicts most Canadian goods would be included in the universal tariff, with possible exceptions like oil.

Yet, surprisingly, he concludes: "Canada will be a huge winner under Trump's trade policy."

That's because Canada would suddenly become much more competitive as a global production hub, as overseas countries with the highest tariffs would be clobbered hardest by Trump's plan.

Targeting China: Trump would escalate trade actions against China. He promises to rescind the country's decades-old eligibility for standard U.S. tariff rates, known as Most Favoured Nation.

That would require an act of Congress and some Republicans have already introduced similar bills. Trump promises numerous other actions, like the tariffs he imposed under national-security exemptions (which Biden left in place).

Trump and Xi closeup

He promises a four-year plan to phase out Chinese imports of essential goods (from electronics to medicine); restrictions on Chinese investment in the U.S.'s strategic industries (like energy, technology and farming); restrictions on U.S. investment in China; and a ban on federal contracts for companies outsourcing jobs to China.

It's unclear if any of this will actually happen, but according to Rottenhaus, just "the act of saying it is powerful," because it sends a clear signal to companies: Invest in China at your own risk.

Rattling the new NAFTA: Trump is hinting he would ignore a recent ruling under the dispute system of the new North American trade pact, raising questions about the stability of the agreement and whether it will be reliably enforced.

It's complicated, but the issue in a nutshell is that after the pact was signed, the U.S. said it interpreted the language of the deal as requiring far more North American parts in cars than Canada and Mexico agreed to.

The U.S. called it a matter of preserving jobs on this continent, but Canada and Mexico viewed it as a sneaky way of forcing companies selling in the U.S. to produce parts in the U.S. An international dispute panel sided with Canada and Mexico.

Trump called the ruling a "globalist assault" on U.S. workers – and said he would communicate to Canada and Mexico that full compliance with the pact is not optional.

Restoring pre-Biden policies: He would pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord — again.

He probably couldn't undo Biden's landmark climate law funding green energy, which requires an act of Congress. But some analysts believe he could sabotage its implementation.

He would also try to complete his border wall with Mexico, only a fraction of which was built during his time in office.

An unfinished section of the border wall between the United States and Mexico is seen at dusk.

There's a lesson in that incomplete wall and it is this: U.S. presidential candidates can make promises, and the courts, Congress and bureaucracy often lay waste to them.

Nonetheless, Blessing says that given Trump's position in the race so far, one can't discount the possibility that on Nov. 5, 2024, American voters will elect him again.

"We should take his candidacy seriously," she said. "You should take these policy proposals seriously."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexander Panetta is a Washington-based correspondent for CBC News who has covered American politics and Canada-U.S. issues since 2013. He previously worked in Ottawa, Quebec City and internationally, reporting on politics, conflict, disaster and the Montreal Expos.

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