Friday, July 6, 2018

How Heritage Stocked Trump's Government

Here are our favorite excerpts from a New York Times Magazine piece by Jonathan Mahler about how the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation has staffed the Trump Administration:

On staffing the Trump Administration:
The Trump team may not have been prepared to staff the government, but the Heritage Foundation was. In the summer of 2014, a year before Trump even declared his candidacy, the right-wing think tank had started assembling a 3,000-name searchable database of trusted movement conservatives from around the country who were eager to serve in a post-Obama government. The initiative was called the Project to Restore America, a dog-whistle appeal to the so-called silent majority that foreshadowed Trump’s own campaign slogan.

On Trump and Heritage being an unlikely match:
In some ways, Trump and Heritage were an unlikely match. Trump had no personal connection to the think tank and had fared poorly on a “Presidential Platform Review” from its sister lobbying shop, Heritage Action for America, which essentially concluded that he wasn’t even a conservative.

On helping each other:
And yet Heritage and Trump were uniquely positioned to help each other. Much like Trump’s, Heritage’s constituency is equal parts donor class and populist base. Its $80 million annual budget depends on six-figure donations from rich Republicans like Rebekah Mercer, whose family foundation has reportedly given Heritage $500,000 a year since 2013. But it also relies on a network of 500,000 small donors, Heritage “members” whom it bombards with millions of pieces of direct mail every year. The Heritage Foundation is a marketing company, a branding agency — it sells its own Heritage neckties, embroidered with miniature versions of its Liberty Bell logo — and a policy shop rolled into one. But above all, Heritage is a networking group.

On victory for Heritage:
Today it is clear that for all the chaos and churn of the current administration, Heritage has achieved a huge strategic victory. Those who worked on the project estimate that hundreds of the people the think tank put forward landed jobs, in just about every government agency. Heritage’s recommendations included some of the most prominent members of Trump’s cabinet: Scott Pruitt, Betsy DeVos (whose in-laws endowed Heritage’s Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society), Mick Mulvaney, Rick Perry, Jeff Sessions and many more. Dozens of Heritage employees and alumni also joined the Trump administration — at last count 66 of them, according to Heritage, with two more still awaiting Senate confirmation. It is a kind of critical mass that Heritage had been working toward for nearly a half-century.

On the five ideologies of Heritage:
[Heritage co-founded Ed] Feulner packaged his fledgling think tank’s ideology into five basic principles: free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional values and a strong national defense. 

Heritage avoids never-Trump:
In March 2016, the Republican establishment stepped up its effort to stop Trump. More than 100 Republican national-security experts signed an open letter publicly committing to fight his election, calling him a “racketeer” and denouncing his dishonesty and “admiration for foreign dictators.” A number of the signatories were fellows of conservative think tanks; none were affiliated with Heritage at the time. Heritage treated Trump as it would any other candidate, giving his campaign staff more than a dozen briefings and sending them off with decks of cards bearing Heritage policy proposals and market-tested “power phrases.”

On what Heritage staffers ate during election night:
On election night, Heritage turned its first floor over to a viewing party with an open bar, chicken wings and red, white and blue cupcakes.

On Heritage staffing the Trump Administration:
Heritage helped place countless others, from staff assistants to cabinet secretaries. In some cases, DeMint intervened directly, calling Pence to argue for Mick Mulvaney, a former congressman whose political career DeMint helped start years earlier in South Carolina. Mulvaney is now the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and as this article went to press, he was serving out the remaining time in a stint as the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau...

On current Heritage-Trump relations:
The president and his favorite think tank continue to draw closer. Administration officials speak regularly at Heritage and give frequent interviews to The Daily Signal. In April, Pruitt and Attorney General Jeff Sessions were both scheduled to speak at a Heritage donor conference in Palm Beach, Fla. (Sessions, under fire from the president because of the Russia investigation, dropped out.)

On the Trump-Heritage revolving door:
Churn is a central feature of this administration, even for its unofficial staffing agency. Paul Winfree, a Heritage economist who helped draft Trump’s first budget, is back at the think tank. So are Stephen Moore, who worked on the Trump tax cuts; David Kreutzer, who played a key role in dissolving a White House working group that was studying the monetary costs associated with climate-warming carbon dioxide; and Hans von Spakovsky, who helped run the now-defunct voter-fraud commission...

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece about big changes that have taken place recently at the Heritage Foundation.