Politics / Comment / February 8, 2024

Will the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025 Turn Trumpism Into a Governing Agenda?

Be scared, be very scared.

Robert L. Borosage
Trump supporters rally to welcome him at Manchester airport in Manchester, N.H., on May 10, ahead of his CNN town hall.
Trump supporters rally to welcome him at Manchester airport in Manchester, N.H., on May 10, ahead of his CNN town hall.(Joseph Prezioso / AFP via Getty Images)

What would a second Trump term look like? His bluster on the stump—“I am your retribution”—contrasts with a first term in office where his menace was mitigated by his sloth, ignorance and incompetence. But don’t count on that if he wins in the fall.

This time, the right is intent on turning Trumpism into a governing agenda. The Heritage Foundation, the right’s premier policy institute, has launched a multimillion-dollar Project 2025 to recruit, train and plant MAGA operatives throughout the government, and arm them with clear marching orders.

Project 2025 includes four elements: The 900-plus-page Mandate for Leadership: The Conservative Promise details the right’s agenda for each major department and agency in the federal government; the Playbook, a still secret compilation of executive orders and initiatives for the first 180 days of the administration; a right-wing “LinkedIn” designed to recruit and vet thousands of MAGA movement operatives to staff the government; and a Presidential Administration Academy to train them on how to operate.

Heritage’s proudest moment was its 1980 Mandate for Leadership, which Ronald Reagan, a self-proclaimed movement president, literally distributed to cabinet members. Heritage boasts that Reagan implemented 60 percent of its recommendations by the end of his first year—including massive tax cuts, Star Wars, doubling the military budget in peacetime and more. It has been producing a Mandate ever since, but this is by far its most ambitious effort, designed, in words of its new president, Kevin D. Roberts, for “institutionalizing Trumpism.”

Heritage’s embrace of MAGA throws Reaganite conservatism under the bus. Project 2025 Associate Director Spencer Chretien decries “decades of disappointment” because the “Republican establishment never moved on from the 1980s,” continuing to peddle “supply-side economics, a “bellicose foreign policy,” and “belief in small government.” No more of that. The MAGA movement “increasingly knows what time it is in America.” Heritage shows how to employ presidential powers to turn Trump’s truculence and insults into a governing agenda.

The priority will be to bring the permanent bureaucracy to heel. No more “adults in the room” to curb Trump’s impulses. No more civil servants loyal more to the law than to the president. Trump will revive his “Schedule F” executive order to turn high-level civil service jobs over to political appointees. Instead of the normal 4,000 presidential political appointments, Roberts now suggests aiming for 50,000 or more.

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These appointees will be driven not by Reagan’s sunny “morning in America” conservatism but by a dark QAnon vision of America betrayed. In his forward, Roberts warns that the “very moral foundations of our society are in peril” from “the totalitarian cult known today as the “The Great Awokening.” This “woke Marxist” cult, Roberts charges, has infiltrated the military, the corporations, the universities, and the bureaucracy. Big Tech is “less a contributor to the US economy than it is a tool of China’s government.”

Paul Dans, director of the 2025 project, writes in his introductory note,

The long march of cultural Marxism through our institutions has come to pass. The federal government is a behemoth, weaponized against American citizens and conservative values, with freedom and liberty under siege as never before. Our goal is to assemble an army of aligned, vetted, trained, and prepared conservatives to go to work on Day One to deconstruct the Administrative State.

While the Mandate’s chapters lay out, often in turgid bureaucratese, an agenda for major departments and agencies, the priorities are drawn straight from Trump’s venom.

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An imperative is to wield “federal power” to “rescue America’s kids from familial breakdown” and “restore the American family.” While recycling old standbys like ending the marriage tax penalty, the focus is a war on equity. A “whole of government” priority would be “deleting the terms sexual orientation and gender identity (‘SOGI’), diversity, equity and inclusion (‘DEI’), gender, gender equality, gender equity, gender awareness, gender-sensitive, abortion, reproductive health, reproductive rights…out of every federal rule, agency regulation, contract, grant, regulation and piece of legislation that exists.”

The Mandate pledges to “muzzle woke propaganda at every level of government,” particularly ending “the Left’s social experimentation with the military.” The DOD would be purged of “Marxist indoctrination and divisive critical race theory programs.” (Who knew?) Policies that allow “transgender individuals to serve” would be terminated. Any involvement in diversity, equity, and inclusion activities, the Treasury Department section notes, would be “per se grounds for termination of employment.

At the same, Trump’s appointees would “gratefully celebrate the greatest pro-family win in a generation,” the overturning of Roe v. Wade and termination of women’s right to control their own bodies. The Department of Health and Humam Services would be tasked with insuring that mifepristone—the abortion pill—is outlawed. The Pentagon would be prohibited from using public money to “facilitate abortion for service members.”

A second fixation is “climate fanaticism” which would require a “whole of government unwinding.” Scientific bodies would be purged and research terminated in national laboratories. EPA regulatory powers would be curbed.

USAID, for example, would be directed to “cease its war on fossil fuels in the developing world.” The next administration would “rescind all climate policies from its foreign aid programs, shut down “offices, programs and directives designed to advance the Paris Climate Agreement,” and “cease collaborating” with progressive foundations, corporations or NGOs that “advocate on behalf of climate fanaticism.”

Dismantling anything climate-related is only the first step. “The next conservative President should go beyond merely defending America’s energy interests but go on offense, asserting them around the world. America’s vast reserves of oil and natural gas are not an environmental problem; they are the lifeblood of economic growth.”

As for retribution, Trump raves about rooting out the “radical left that live like vermin within the confines of the country,” and prosecuting officials who betrayed him, as well as “Biden’s criminal family.” Heritage’s Mandate doesn’t name targets, but its Justice Department chapter emphasizes that the DOJ is not independent but “falls under the direct supervision and control of the President.… litigation decisions must be made consistent with the President’s agenda.”

On national security, the priority is on ending “open borders,” extirpating “anti-human environmental extremism,” and confronting China.

Heritage authors detail ways to fulfil Trump’s call for an unprecedented assault on immigrants. Millions of undocumented immigrants would be barred from the country or tossed out of it after living here for years or even decades.

Under the plan, military funds would be used to erect sprawling camps to hold undocumented detainees. Military forces would be assigned to the border. A public-health emergency would be invoked to shut down asylum requests by people arriving at the border. And the government would try to end birthright citizenship for babies born on US soil to undocumented parents.

China is targeted, not as a competitor but as an enemy. The Pentagon would get more money to counter China in the South China sea. The trade war with China would be ramped up, with more tariffs, wider export controls, and greater curbs on investment and technology transfers. (Trump recently called for a tariffs exceeding 60 percent on all goods coming from China.) The new cold war against Beijing even justifies economic planning—to capture resources, map vulnerabilities, police technology, and push “strategic decoupling.”

Beyond that, Trump’s isolationist instincts get full expression.

As Roberts summarizes,

International organizations and agreements that erode our Constitution, rule of law, or popular sovereignty should not be reformed: They should be abandoned. Illegal immigration should be ended, not mitigated; the border sealed, not reprioritized. Economic engagement with China should be ended, not rethought. Universities taking money from the CCP should lose their accreditation, charters, and eligibility for federal funds.

The Treasury chapter advocates withdrawing from the World Bank and the IMF. Commerce would withdraw from the OECD. Any program related to the Paris climate accord and international climate bodies would be terminated. Efforts to enact a global minimum tax on multinationals would be torpedoed.

The Mandate reiterates the traditional conservative embrace of regulatory rollback and tax cuts—on corporations, estates, dividends, and capital gains (with the exception of Biden’s renewable energy and electric car incentives, which are to be repealed).

Heritage, however, remains conflicted on signature Trump economic heresies. On trade, a chapter by Peter Navarro, Trump’s former trade director, making the case for managed trade is countered by one reiterating the traditional doctrine. The chapter on the Federal Trade Commission can’t reconcile the conservative antipathy to antitrust actions with the new fears of concentrated social-media platforms that allegedly suppress free speech.

Despite the trumpeting of Republicans as the party of the working class, the Mandate agenda does little to address their economic interests. No mention of raising the minimum wage or bolstering union organizing. The Mandate suggests that states should get five-year waivers from labor laws to prove workers would fare just as well without unions. The risible theory for lifting wages is to limit benefits, putting a lid on amount corporations can offer tax-free. Companies will be free to designate employees as independent contractors, with no benefits or rights whatsoever. The priority on Medicare is not lowering costs or extending benefits but making private plans—Medicare Advantage—the “default choice” for new retirees.

Be Scared, Be Very Scared

Of course, the “known unknown” is whether Trump would have the discipline to impose this agenda. Ominously, a second term is unlikely to be as slapdash as the first. Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen report that beneath Trump’s increasingly unhinged performances on the stump and online, his team is running a surprisingly “professional, well-managed, disciplined presidential campaign,” according to one Axios article. His advisers see this as a “template” for governing were he to win.

MAGA operatives have in Hungary—the self-proclaimed “illiberal democracy” of Viktor Orbán—what Heritage President Roberts hails as “not just a model for conservative statecraft but the model.” Orbán, a famously anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigrant Christian nationalist, has systematically undermined democratic institutions in Hungary—from elections to the free press. Before and after Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, Republicans have used state power and the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court to undermine democratic institutions here—opening the spigots for dark money in elections, legitimating political gerrymandering, enacting various measures to make it harder to vote. They’ve also built an unparalleled national propaganda TV, radio, and social-media network, skilled at echoing lies and inventions to rouse the MAGA base.

While Trump remains more narcissist than ideologue, there’s a greater likelihood that if he regains office, his next administration will be far more organized, relentless, and destructive than his first. Adam Smith wrote that there is a lot of ruin in a nation. We are perilously close to testing that proposition.

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Robert L. Borosage

Robert L. Borosage is a leading progressive writer and activist.

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