Think tanks often act as an administration-in-waiting for presidents — a place to stash future appointees, generate policy plans, and flag promising young staffers. This year their role on the right is taking on outsized importance, however, as the 2024 Republican field has made overhauling the bureaucracy with more reliable allies one of their top stated goals.
That’s where the Heritage Foundation, alongside 50-plus conservative organizations in partner roles, hopes to come in. In April, the conservative nonprofit unveiled the start of a new $22 million project intended to staff the next Republican presidential administration from day one — a “private LinkedIn for conservatives,” as Paul Dans, the lead of “Project 2025,” described it.
Their work dovetails with the goals expressed in Donald Trump’s calls to “destroy the deep state,” for example, and his plans to fire and replace federal workers en masse. Rivals like Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy have already accused Trump of not going far enough as president in rooting out ineffective or disloyal appointees and civil servants.
“What fundamentally unites our coalition is deconstructing the administrative state,” Dans told Semafor.
“The overall principle of this project is, you know, we’ve got to reassert political control over the government, reassert presidential control over the executive branch,” the project’s associate director, Spencer Chretien, later added.
Besides the database the group is continuing to compile, the conservative think-tank’s ambitious effort is comprised of three additional pillars: A policy book for the next administration, an organized training effort dubbed the “Presidential Administration Academy,” and eventually a “180-day game plan of regulations and executive orders that a president could sign on day one,” Dans explained.
They’ve even recently begun taking the show on the road — some of the project’s top members have already visited Hillsdale College and Florida International University — to try and attract more promising young conservatives to Washington. (There’s also an upcoming visit to Denver for the Western Conservative Summit planned). Eventually, they hope to begin hosting roundtables and debates featuring some of the experts involved in the project’s policy book, and are even considering setting up posts along the campaign trail in key early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire.
“Project 2025” is, at its core, a response to Trump’s win back in 2016. In an interview, Dans said how his upset victory “took Conservative, Inc., by surprise” and thus the movement was unprepared to properly help him as he took office. Trump, who was superstitious about preparing a transition before winning, struggled to fill in the gaps himself.
“They certainly hadn’t done a lot of homework to support them,” Dans said, later adding: “I think we acknowledge, if nothing else, Biden was prepared to go in there.”
Heritage’s efforts also tie into ongoing conservative allegations of “weaponization” of government officials against their priorities (which are fiercely disputed by Democrats.) This is perhaps the most organized effort thus far to respond by trying to pack the executive branch with staff of their choosing.
Prior to this, the most aggressive attempt came from Trump, who issued an executive order dubbed “Schedule F” late in his term, with guidance from former Heritage staffers. The proposal — reversed by President Biden — sought to allow the White House to get rid of huge numbers of civil servants, who are typically protected against the whims of a new president. It’s now a key part of his plans for a second term.
“I think any candidate is going to have to, at a minimum, embrace a Schedule F sort of major reform,” Dans told Semafor. “We’re embarking on the 100 year reform period here in the United States.”
Heritage is also distributing its dense 887-page policy booklet, which covers topics ranging from, as Dans put it, “ending the woke military” to establishing “full spectrum energy dominance,” to 2024 presidential hopefuls plus some notable politicians. They’ve passed it on to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin — who closed a door on launching a presidential run this year but has left open a crack that he may still enter as a last minute candidate — as well as Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a critic of COVID-19 policies and a prominent spreader of anti-government conspiracy theories, and former Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.
The View From Democrats
Democrats and many critics on the left see Trump’s “Schedule F” proposals as an attempt to undermine the basic functionings of government and consolidate power.
“This is a classic case of what Republicans love to do — to tell people that government doesn’t work for them and then work to dismantle and break the government on purpose,” a national Democratic operative said of the latest effort.
Room for Disagreement
Trump’s fiery denunciations of appointees and staff who have defied his orders — including those who testified about his behavior as part of impeachment trials and federal investigations — have some observers worried his plans would be a step toward silencing his critics (or a Trump-like president’s) and enabling corruption.
“The last thing we need is for a president to fire dedicated and experienced public servants and replace them with sycophants and grifters without the skills to carry out the functions of government within the rule of law,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. said last year after introducing legislation with other Democrats to try and prevent any sort of “Schedule F” executive orders from going into effect in the future.
- In an op-ed published by The Hill, Donald F. Kettl recently argued that the Heritage Foundation’s efforts amount to “reaching back to the government of the past instead of forward to the government of the future.” Kettl adds that, instead of “reorganiz[ing] our way out of important problems,” the next administration should be focusing on “bridgebuilders” who can help solve some of government’s biggest problems.