Opinion: There is only one way to approach candidate Trump

Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program, “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” Follow him on Threads. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.

The New York Times published an in-depth article Sunday describing how a broad network of Democratic officials, progressive activists and watchdog groups, among others, are “taking extraordinary steps to prepare for a potential second Trump presidency.”

Dean Obeidallah - CNN
Dean Obeidallah - CNN

Examples included Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s efforts to make his state a haven where women would be free to seek abortions without fear of prosecution. The article also cited an organization that is preemptively hiring a new auditor in case Trump were to direct the Internal Revenue Service to target the group during a second term.

On one hand, we should applaud these officials and organizations for grasping that Donald Trump back in the White House poses a unique threat to our democratic freedoms. But the only sure way to prevent Trump from subverting the government for a campaign of retribution in which Trump loyalists will be in key positions in the federal government — and ushering in a far-right-wing agenda — is to defeat him this November. We must make our single focus keeping the barbarians outside the gate, not figuring out how to lessen the damage once they are on the inside.

Trump is telling anyone who will listen what his dark goals are for a second term — from mass deportations to the construction of expansive detention camps for migrants to expanding his presidential power. There’s also his deeply concerning vow to “liberate” America from those not loyal to him.

We first heard this during his 2023 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) where he promised his supporters that he would be their “retribution.” He then vowed to target Democrats, “the fake news media,” Republicans in name only, the globalists and others who oppose him, bellowing, “We will liberate America from these villains and scoundrels once and for all.” He has repeated this pledge to “liberate” our nation from those who oppose him, including at a rally last month in Wisconsin.

When have you ever heard an American political figure speak about “liberating” the country from fellow Americans with whom they simply politically disagree? My guess is, you haven’t, because we have never had one who has pledged to be a dictator on “day one” — then “after that, I’m not a dictator,” he claimed — lead one of our two main political parties.

To be blunt, the forms of resistance employed to stymie Trump’s first-term agenda are unlikely to work against this bitter, angry convicted felon who is hellbent on retribution and purging America from those who won’t bend a knee to him.

Even the strategy detailed in Sunday’s New York Times article, which included using the courts to slow down a second-term Trump agenda, is far less likely to be successful this time. One reason for this is that in his first term, Trump was able to confirm more than 200 federal judges including three US Supreme Court justices that he personally appointed.

Just look at how Trump-appointed federal Judge Aileen Cannon appears to have slowed Trump’s prosecution on allegations of retaining classified documents, which has led critics to say she is furthering Trump’s strategy of trying to delay his trial until after the election.

And the country is currently watching the GOP-friendly Supreme Court appear to protect Trump from being prosecuted before the November election for his alleged crimes in connection with attempting to remain in power despite losing the 2020 election by dragging their feet on a decision about Trump’s claim for total immunity.

From a legislative point of view, If Trump were able to win and MAGA Republicans were able to also take control of the House and Senate, we could expect him to deliver on a laundry list of right-wing policy dreams they have long coveted. This won’t be like Trump’s first term when some Republicans stood up to him to block his radical agenda — with the most famous example being the late Arizona Sen. John McCain preventing Trump from repealing the Affordable Care Act with his vote.

Almost all of the Republicans who have dared to stand up to Trump are out of Congress or have capitulated to his undemocratic rule. Of the 10 House Republicans who voted in January 2021 to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection, only two remain in Congress (Reps. Dan Newhouse of Washington state and David Valadao of California).

Republicans in the Senate have also capitulated. Senator Mitt Romney, a vocal critics of Trump’s, will be leaving office this January. Even GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — who slammed Trump on the Senate floor after the Jan. 6 attack with the words, “There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day” — last week met with Trump and pronounced their encounter to have been “entirely positive.” But even if Trump does not have a GOP-controlled Congress, however, there is no limit to the damage he could inflict on the nation during a second term. Few restrictions would rein him in.

That is why second-term resistance strategies only divert resources from the more pressing imperative at hand: keeping Trump from winning a second term. That’s the top priority — in fact, the only real priority — we should focus on. Nothing else matters.

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