Paul Dans, the director of the Heritage Foundations 2025 Presidential Transition Project, pushed back on a trending media narrative that former President Donald Trump could behave like a dictator if he returns to the White House in 2024.
Several media commentators and contributors—including those writing for the Washington Post, Politico, and the Philadelphia Inquirer—have repeatedly referred to the former president in authoritarian terms and accused him of pursuing a dictatorial strategy going forward.
Former Rep. Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney and a frequent critic of President Trump in recent years, also recently said the United States is “sleepwalking into a dictatorship” with a second Trump presidency.
Speaking with NTD’s “Capitol Report” on Wednesday, Mr. Dans said the United States is already dealing with an authoritarian government, not because of the out-of-office former president, but because of the current presidential administration.
“The DOJ and, we know, the FBI has set its mark on essentially half of of the electorate, claiming that, you know, in some cases, that Christian conservatives and others are the biggest domestic threat facing America. So it’s really an absurd reality. But if there’s a dictator, to be sure, he’s occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue right now,” Mr. Dans said.
The former president and his political allies have pushed back on the “dictator” label and have accused his political opponents of being the real authoritarians for attempts to block him from the ballot in 2024 and alleged selective criminal prosecutions.
President Trump has been federally charged with mishandling classified documents and taking criminal actions in his efforts to challenge the 2020 election outcome. President Biden has been investigated for his own handling of classified materials after numerous documents were found at his personal office space and residence last year, but he has yet to be charged.
Numerous Republicans and conservatives have also accused the Biden administration of weaponizing government, including pressuring social media companies to censor political speech and devoting investigative resources to target parents and Christians.
Trump’s ‘Day One’ Dictator Comments
Despite some pushback by the former president and his allies, the “dictator” label has persisted. During a Tuesday town hall-style interview in Davenport, Iowa, Fox News host Sean Hannity asked the former president about his plans should he retake the White House in the 2024 election and about the authoritarian accusations he faces.
“Do you in any way have any plans whatsoever if reelected president to abuse power, to break the law, to use the government to go after people?” Mr. Hannity asked.
“You mean like they’re using right now?” came President Trump’s immediate response, referring to multiple federal criminal indictments brought against him in recent months. “In the history of our country, what’s happened to us, again, has never happened before. Over nonsense. Over nothing, made-up charges.”
Mr. Hannity again asked during the interview if President Trump would commit to not abusing his power to target people. President Trump replied that he wouldn’t “Except for Day One.” Asked for further clarification, President Trump added, “We’re closing the border and we’re drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I’m not a dictator–okay?”
“That’s not retribution,” Mr. Hannity responded.
The former president’s remarks drew new scrutiny. Harvard Law professor emeritus Lawrence Tribe, a liberal commentator and routine critic of President Trump, called the town hall comments “profoundly concerning.”
Michael Cohen, an attorney of President Trump turned critic, also responded to the town hall comments, writing that his former client “will be a dictator on day one and until his death. Be concerned. Democracy depends on it!”
Weighing in, Mr. Dans said the former president’s comments were a vow to disempower bureaucratic government rather than a genuine threat to embrace authoritarianism for 24 hours or longer upon taking office.
“When he facetiously says ‘dictator,’ he’s pointing at the fact that this government, as it stands, is not the government of the people,” Mr. Dans said. “It’s a permanent government in Washington, and they resent people like Donald Trump, who are threatening to upturn the applecart and return the power from Washington back to the people.”
Mr. Dans said as it stands, a large portion of unelected federal employees are currently disinclined to take political direction from the head of the executive branch when it’s a conservative president, even when that president is attempting to “wield the power that’s constitutionally vested in him or her.”
Mr. Dans and others have argued that the unelected federal workforce, not individuals like President Trump, pose the real authoritarian threat because they can influence the execution of government policy but are insulated from the democratic process.
Mr. Dans said “deconstructing this administrative state” is a primary focus he and others have at the 2025 Presidential Transition Project.
“We are going to break down the deep state and return the power to the people,” he added.
The 2025 Presidential Transition Project is a project of the Heritage Foundation and dozens of other conservative think tanks and advocacy groups. The project aims to prepare a ready-to-use agenda for selecting personnel, implementing reforms, and enacting conservative policy should a conservative win control of the White House in 2024.
Mr. Dans said the project is not a direct partnership with President Trump and instead addresses strategy goals and priorities that all major candidates on the Republican side are recognizing going into the 2024 election.