The Right’s Partners in Weaponized Policymaking

The Right’s Partners in Weaponized Policymaking

The Right’s Partners in Weaponized Policymaking

How Jim Demint’s think-tank network is setting the stage for a second Trump term.


In remarkably short order, Donald Trump has transformed from the face of a hard-right insurgency in the GOP to the caretaker of the party’s future. This change has been anything but accidental; it’s the result of strategically deployed donor support, the MAGA takeover of key institutions such as the Republican National Committee—and, in the nexus of these shifts, the rise of a new policy establishment made over in Trump’s political image.

One key organization has presided over this development is the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a network of closely affiliated think tanks, legal groups, and training centers dedicated to the thorough makeover of the federal government—and by extension, the American social order—to advance a hard-right, Christian nationalist agenda. The CPI, founded in 2017, announces that its principal goal is to “deliver real, tangible results for the conservative movement. Our team arms, trains, and unites conservative leaders in Washington and across the country to take ground and win.” It’s amassed a $36 million annual budget to pursue this agenda—mostly from big-ticket conservative donors such as the Koch network and Richard Uihlein. CPI was in the news earlier this week when a New York Times investigation found that, since 2021, the group had disbursed $3.2 million to contractors who were either members of its senior leadership team or their relatives. 

This sort of self-dealing is quite common in the age of dark-money financing of political initiatives—but it’s more striking in the CPI’s case because of the group’s gatekeeper role in bringing traditional conservative causes in line with the priorities of MAGA world. The CPI’s director and founder is Jim DeMint, the former South Carolina senator and previous head of the Heritage Foundation, the multimillion-dollar right-wing think tank that has helped shape the GOP policy agenda since Ronald Reagan came to power. In his role at the CPI, DeMint has effectively broken down and expanded the Heritage model into a network of issue- and tactic-specific satellite operations, ranging from personnel recruitment shops to litigation clearinghouses. The seven groups under the CPI umbrella maintain their own executive boards, staffs, and missions, but remain focused on realizing key elements of the MAGA agenda.

Take the best known group in the CPI’s orbit, the American Accountability Foundation (AAF). The group has mounted a long series of smear campaigns that have successfully toppled Biden nominees to key executive branch posts. The AAF targeted the nomination of Sarah Bloom Raskin, the spouse of Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin, to the Federal Reserve Board with a push to publicize to oil and gas interests her utterly benign commitments to climate mitigation and clean energy. The AAF was also instrumental in the racist and sexist character assassination of Saule Omarova when she was nominated to be comptroller of the currency. And the group helped spearhead the homophobic and misogynistic attacks on Gigi Sohn when she was nominated to the Federal Communications Commission. Each of these candidates was committed to advancing policies that serve the wider public interest—which posed a potential threat to the interests of the CPI’s nexus of billionaire funders and corporate backers. At the end of the AAF smear campaigns, each withdrew their name from consideration.

American Moment, another CPI franchise, specializes in the cultivation of right-wing ideological recruits to serve in congressional offices and the executive bureaucracy, much as the Federalist Society has done in its capture of the courts. The group has accordingly worked closely with key congressional panels like the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and forged personnel alliances with leading right-wing lawmakers such as Senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marco Rubio of Florida. Like other groups in the CPI network, American Moment is a partner organization to the Heritage Foundation’s notorious Project 2025 initiative, which lays out an extreme far-right agenda to be carried out in a second Trump administration.

Other CPI-affiliated groups pursue a litigation strategy to further right-wing causes—an effective means of capitalizing on the right’s ongoing makeover of the federal court system. Often partnering with high-profile Republican attorneys general, America First Legal (AFL) is led by known white supremacists such as the fiercely nativist Trump consigliere Stephen Miller and Gene Hamilton, another former Trump official who worked tirelessly to end the popular program to phase in citizenship for the US-born children of undocumented immigrants. From their perches atop the AFL, Miller and Hamilton have fought to thwart incremental border reforms under Biden while pushing to restore the brutal border crackdowns advanced by Trump. The group has mounted key test cases to roll back basic rights at the border, expand state-level denials of reproductive freedom, and challenge core protections against discrimination for queer and trans-identifying people in the fields of medicine and education.

Meanwhile, the CPI’s Center for Renewing America—another partner in Project 2025—is a far-right think tank run by Russell Vought, Donald Trump’s former director of the Office of Management and Budget and a diehard Christian nationalist. The CRA closely follows Vought’s own portfolio of hard-right policy interests, including attacks on critical race theory and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and on vaccine mandates, and draconian crackdowns on immigration.

The CPI also takes a more direct hand in the staffing of a resurgent MAGA GOP. The group boasts that it has placed trainees in more than 132 congressional offices, and it has also held special training events for legislative directors to help draft and pass the pet legislative and policy initiatives of the right.

Yet the CPI has proven most effective in spreading its influence indirectly via its network of advocacy groups. This fractured model allows the network to pursue short-term and long-term goals of the conservative movement simultaneously. Its member groups can move nimbly through the executive branch, Congress, and the courts to gut long-established regulatory regimes, while its lead policy wonks and litigators can carry out what theorists of New Left politics used to call “the long march through the institutions”—ensuring that true-believing apparatchiks of the right take permanent control of the administrative state.

The Center for Renewing America, for instance, recently released a policy paper encouraging state governors to take over the country’s southern border, and the corresponding suite of policies overseeing border enforcement, via, their states’ national guards. That policy intervention was calculated to help legitimize Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s bid to claim unilateral sovereignty over border enforcement. Another CPI group took the baton from there, with supporting statements issued by State Freedom Caucus Network affiliates, such as the Idaho Freedom Caucus. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton mounted the legal defense of Abbott’s power play—a natural extension of Paxton’s earlier collaborations with America First Legal Services to attack even piecemeal efforts to reform immigration policy.

The CPI uses the same basic playbook on a host of policy fronts. The American Accountability Foundation’s crusade against Biden nominees is a case in point. In coordination with the group’s identity-based personal attacks, Republican attorneys general, like Idaho’s Austin Knudsen, quickly took up and repeated their smears. US senators such as Josh Hawley and Marsha Blackburn fell into line, while mainstream media outlets covered the AFL-generated attacks by interviewing the AFL’s own leaders. The CPI has used the same plug-and-play script on issues ranging from financial regulation to broadband access to progressive jurisprudence.

All of which serves as a likely preview of a second Trump administration. Inside players like the CRA’s Vought and 2020 coup plotter Cleta Mitchell are already seeking to use the CPI’s imprimatur to regain clout in the federal government. Long before Project 2025 made its debut this past winter, the CPI was staking out the serious business of commandeering the shock troops to bring the long-term Trump agenda to fruition.

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