Who could have guessed that the greatest modern Republican champion of federalism would be Donald Trump?
Strongmen aren’t normally sticklers for principles that require them to cede authority to less exalted government entities. When riots broke out in 2020 during the wave of Black Lives Matter protests, Trump threatened to send in the troops if local authorities didn’t respond aggressively enough to his liking. Months earlier, he claimed that the decision to lift state lockdown orders belonged to him as president, not to America’s governors. Only after his legal advisers quietly corrected him did he allow that states would be “calling their own shots.”
Authoritarians seek to consolidate power. Federalism seeks to disperse it, believing that most governing authority in America properly belongs to the states. It’s a classically liberal hedge against autocracy, inimical to the kind of big-government nationalism favored by Trump and his populist minions.
But recent developments appear to have bred a Strange New Respect for it in the former guy.