Aug 25, 2023, 12:13pm EDT

The man training the 2024 GOP field to blow up the federal government

REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger

Sign up for Semafor Americana: An insider’s guide to American power. Read it now.

Title icon

The News

ATLANTA, Ga. – The Heritage Foundation launched Project 2025 at the start of this year — a four-stage process of policy and staffing that would help the next Republican president quickly unbuild the “administrative state.” It set up a clearinghouse for resumes, aiming to find 20,000 conservatives. In an interview at The Gathering, a conservative conference here last week, Heritage President Kevin Roberts said that between 3500 and 4000 people had already replied.

That, again, was stage one. Project 2025 was developing orders that the next president could make to quickly remake the government, including a new version of the Schedule F order (retracted by President Joe Biden) that Donald Trump wanted to use to reclassify thousands of government employees and make them easier to replace. Roberts sat down with me and Shelby Talcott to discuss the plan, and this is an edited transcript.

Title icon


Americana: What’s your current timeline for Project 2025?

Kevin Roberts: We want to have initial recommendations, drafts of these orders, by Dec. 31 of this year, which gives us time to revise for the better part of next year. The idea would be that before convention season next summer, that we’ve got them set up with any of the candidates who want them. We’ve even offered a policy briefing to RFK Jr. He’s not taken us up on that, but I understand that may happen.

Americana: Well, he approaches this from a different direction — dismantling corporate capture in these institutions.


Kevin Roberts: Even if President Biden is in 20% agreement, let’s do a policy briefing! We’d like to do more, but partisanship on their side really blinds them.

Let’s say President Trump’s the nominee, and President Biden’s the nominee, of their respective parties. Then Joe Manchin is going to run for president. If Joe Manchin calls —

Americana: He hasn’t yet?

Kevin Roberts: He hasn’t, but I will send him a letter. I guess we need to do this with Cornel West. We haven’t done that yet, but we will. We’ll do a policy briefing.

Americana: What would be your pitch to West? Why should President West or President Manchin want to dismantle the administrative state and put power in the executive?


Kevin Roberts: There’d be a lot more agreement between Manchin and us — on energy, I would guess on education, deregulation generally. Politically, I’d surmise that he’d need that. In the case of Prof. West, I’d rely on our Heritage board member Robby George, one of his best friends. I know he’s intellectually honest, even though we disagree.

There’d be a lot of agreement on safety net reforms. It’s not helping a lot of people. Part of that is five or six regulations in those respective agencies. I wouldn’t expect him to sign on to dismantling the administrative state, but I might expect him or hope that he signed on to dismantling those regulations.

Americana: What is the back and forth with Vivek like? Some of his ideas are not just to replace the bureaucracy, but to shrink it dramatically — I think by nearly 60% in his first year. That’s not your goal, is it?

Kevin Roberts: No, but I saw him in Iowa, and he mentioned that. We were very intrigued by that policy, but the conversation kind of stopped there. We’ll probably take a look at it, and we’re close. I’m close with Pence, too, close with DeSantis. I’m just getting a message that Trump wants to talk to me. I say that not to sound important; we try to stay in touch with all the campaigns.

Americana: Has every candidate you’ve talked to committed to restoring Schedule F?


Kevin Roberts: I can’t think of one who said he didn’t want to do it. I haven’t talked to Asa Hutchinson about it.

Americana: So, a new president takes over, he starts implementing this, and people start suing. What’s the game plan for that?

Kevin Roberts: That game plan is being written. When I mentioned earlier that the first drafts of these were being completed by December, part of that is about having time to get to the next level — anticipating what the counter-arguments are. Paul Ray, who was director of OIRA; Roger Severino, Steve Bradbury — for us at Heritage, they’re the three pillars, and they’ve all been there, and have batted back a lot of these arguments. They understand these things in ways that a non-attorney doesn’t.

Americana: What’s the mood of Republicans in Congress about this? What opposition would there be on the right?

Kevin Roberts: The only opposition to Project 2025 that we’ve encountered, and it’s small, is from establishment figures. Not so much hostility, just the typical ambivalence that I don’t like in the establishment. But if Mitch McConnell is still in the Senate then, would he be good on many of these discrete issues? No doubt.

Americana: On the trail, the context that these ideas often come up in is the Trump investigation — basically that we need to purge these people and get ones who are going to go after Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton

Kevin Roberts: Any conservative president who has his or her people do that — I would like to think Heritage would be courageous enough to call them out on it. Number one, I think it’s illegal, and certainly inappropriate. And number two, while we’re conservative, and we’ll die on the hill for conservatism, part of that, we believe, is helping to restore, to some extent, some semblance of civility. We have to guard against those worst impulses.

But when I say that we need to start over from scratch, we do. It is rotten to its core as an institution. There are still many good men and women there, but I don’t know how you reform something that’s that far gone. It has something to do with Trump, but it also has something to do with Mark Houck — traditional, pro-life, Latin Mass-loving Catholics, of which I am one. It’s hard to reconcile our desire to want to love these American institutions with what we’re seeing.