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Updated Jul 5, 2024, 4:28pm EDT
politics

Trump disavows would-be allies

Jay Paul / Reuters
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The Scoop

Donald Trump distanced himself Friday from a high-profile effort to shape his policy — and his campaign warned that they are prepared to discard the group’s attempt to build a database of conservatives to staff his administration.

Trump, on Truth Social, denounced “ridiculous and abysmal” statements by the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025 after a string of controversies around issues from abortion to executive power.

Shortly afterwards, a top campaign adviser went further in comments to Semafor, addressing Project 2025’s hiring database: “If you’re an organization that is purporting to be pushing ‘Trump policies,’ it’s probably the last organization that we’ll take references from for personnel,” the aide said.

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Know More

Project 2025 launched eighteen months ago, building on the think tank’s usual policy guides for Republican administrations with efforts to vet staff for a future president and game out his executive orders. Spencer Chretien, the project’s co-director, had served in the office of presidential personnel shortly before Trump left office. Only then, he explained, had appointees “finally figured out the policies and process of different agencies,” and moved on them.

Democrats, including the Biden campaign, seized on this to warn about a Trump administration that would veer further right than his first term. Many goals that Trump discussed, but not in detail, were fleshed out by the think tank and its allies – including ways to use presidential power to go after the left and political opponents.

The project has since crossed beyond the narrow political conversation. On June 30, actress Taraji P. Henson warned the audience of the BET Awards, “The Project 2025 plan is not a game. Look it up.” Two days later, Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts said on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast that a Trump win could spark “the second American Revolution, which will remain bloodless — if the left allows it to be.”

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Trump’s on-the-record condemnation marked a culmination of the ongoing back-and-forth from his campaign aides about the project. For months, Trump’s team had pushed back on media coverage conflating Project 2025’s policies with that of Trump’s, and that, combined with some of the project’s proposed policies and Roberts’ “second American Revolution” comment, sealed the deal, a Trump advisor told Semafor.

Relations between Trump’s campaign and Project 2025 have been tense for months. Trump’s willingness to throw movement activists under the bus irritated Roberts, particularly when Trump blamed the anti-abortion movement for GOP defeats and ignored its policy demands. And Roberts irked Trumpworld by offering Project 2025 briefings to every presidential candidate.

“Even if President Biden is in 20% agreement, let’s do a policy briefing,” he told Semafor last summer.

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That briefing never happened. But in December, after a string of New York Times stories citing Project 2025 contributors on a second term agenda, Trump campaign advisors Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles issued a joint statement (not their only one) distancing the former president from efforts like Project 2025.

“Despite our being crystal clear, some ‘allies’ haven’t gotten the hint, and the media, in their anti-Trump zeal, has been all-to-willing to continue using anonymous sourcing and speculation about a second Trump administration in an effort to prevent a second Trump administration,” the two wrote. “Let us be very specific here: unless a message is coming directly from President Trump or an authorized member of his campaign team, no aspect of future presidential staffing or policy announcements should be deemed official.”

Those comments were received skeptically by Heritage scholars. After all, many involved in Project 2025 were former Trump administration officials. John McEntee, a Trump loyalist and former White House Presidential Personnel Office director, was a Project 2025 advisor. Russ Vought, Trump’s influential ex-OMB director, was working with Heritage on potential executive orders.

But Project 2025’s directors were told by the Trump team to stop presenting their agenda as a Trump agenda. Trump’s Friday statement might also signal to conservative donors that Heritage, a power inside the movement for more than 50 years, would have less clout in a second administration.

Democrats have ignored the palace intrigue, and rejected the idea that Trump will keep his distance from his former and would-be allies. Over the last few months, the Biden campaign has ramped up its focus on Project 2025, consistently tying it to Trump himself.

“​​This is so predictable and so Trumpian — like claiming he’s never heard of the Proud Boys but telling them to ‘stand back and stand by,’” Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., who is leading a resistance task force against Trump’s use of executive power should he become president, said in a text message. “Trump and P2025 are one and the same.”

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Shelby’s view

Trump doesn’t like when people use his name or clout for recognition — and although Project 2025 has noted that it isn’t speaking for him, the coverage has inevitably been tied directly to Trump and a theoretical upcoming administration.

But today’s comment also represents the Trump campaign’s current focus on wooing more moderate voters, particularly as Joe Biden remains in the political fight for his life.

In recent weeks, Trump has expressed policy plans that differ from the more conservative proposals laid out in Project 2025. At last week’s debate with President Biden, Trump said he wouldn’t block access to emergency abortion medication. But Project 2025 called for the FDA to “revisit” and “withdraw its initial approval” of the pill.

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The View From Project 2025

“As we’ve been saying for more than two years now, Project 2025 does not speak for any candidate or campaign,” a Project 2025 spokesperson said in a statement. “We are a coalition of more than 110 conservative groups advocating policy and personnel recommendations for the next conservative president. But it is ultimately up to that president, who we believe will be President Trump, to decide which recommendations to implement. Rather than obsessing over Project 2025, the Biden campaign should be addressing the 25th Amendment.”

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The View From the Biden Campaign

“Project 2025 is the extreme policy and personnel playbook for Trump’s second term that should scare the hell out of the American people,” Ammar Moussa said in a statement. “Project 2025 staff and leadership routinely tout their connections to Trump’s team, and are the same people leading the RNC policy platform and Trump’s debate prep, campaign, and inner circle.

“Trump’s Supreme Court and Project 2025 have designed the playbook for Trump to achieve his dream of being a dictator on day one, with unchecked, imperial power. Allowing a self-absorbed convicted felon that kind of power would be devastating for our democracy and middle-class families. This November, voters must stop Trump from turning the Oval Office into his throne room.”

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