President Donald Trump’s open admission yesterday that he’s sabotaging the Postal Service to improve his election prospects crystallizes a much larger dynamic: He’s waging an unprecedented campaign to weaponize virtually every component of the federal government to partisan advantage.
Trump is systematically enlisting agencies, including the Postal Service, Census Bureau, Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland Security, that traditionally have been considered at least somewhat insulated from political machinations to reward his allies and punish those he considers his enemies. He is razing barriers between his personal and political interests and the core operations of the federal government to an extent that no president has previously attempted, a wide range of public-administration experts have told me.
“There’s always been temptation … but no president in modern times has taken action so explicitly and obviously—or transparently—to influence and actually direct these agencies to favor the party in power,” Paul Light, a public-service professor at New York University, told me. “None. None.”
Presidents have always put their stamp on the federal government. It’s common for regulatory agencies, for instance, to dramatically shift direction in their attitude toward Big Business when partisan control of the White House changes. And presidents have always rewarded their political supporters, at times causing scandals because of questionable Cabinet appointments or procurement decisions.