Monday, July 25, 2022

Trump-Aligned Think Tanks Gaining in Power

When a number of former Trump Administration officials left the White House and various executive branch agencies, they quietly formed and joined several think tanks that have operated largely under-the-radar.

But with talk of the 2024 elections, including a possible Trump announcement ramping up, many are starting to play a more influential role in shaping the policy debate.

Here is more from Axios:

The advocacy groups who have effectively become extensions of the Trump infrastructure include the Center for Renewing America (CRA), the America First Policy Institute (AFPI), and the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI).

Other groups — while not formally connected to Trump’s operation — have hired key lieutenants and are effectively serving his ends. The Heritage Foundation, the legacy conservative group, has moved closer to Trump under its new president, Kevin Roberts, and is building links to other parts of the “America First” movement.

During the Trump administration, many conservatives perceived the group as sliding into irrelevance as they were detached from Trump and his movement. Recently though, some former Heritage allies watched in horror when the group broke with GOP hawks and opposed Congress’ $40 billion aid package to Ukraine for its fight against Russia.

Roberts has developed a closer personal relationship with Trump than his predecessor did. Trump even visited Amelia Island in Florida to speak to Heritage’s annual leadership conference in April. In addition to courting Trump, Roberts has also opened his door to the “New Right” — individuals and organizations whose views differ dramatically from many of the Bush era conservative policies Heritage has traditionally supported.

Roberts said in an interview to Axios he plans to spend at least $10 million collaborating with at least 15 conservative groups to build a database of personnel for the next Republican administration. He was careful to say the list is intended to support whoever is the GOP nominee, but he has appointed a former top Trump personnel official, Paul Dans, to run the operation, and a glance down the list of allied organizations shows it is heavy on stalwart Trump allies.

Tellingly, the Conservative Partnership Institute has signed onto the Heritage effort.  The Trump-blessed think tank America First Policy Institute did not sign onto the Heritage initiative, preferring instead to promote its standalone personnel project. This, too, will have a strong Trumpian flavor.

AFPI is run by Trump’s former Domestic Policy Council director Brooke Rollins. More than half a dozen Trump Cabinet officials are affiliated with AFPI and Trump loyalists fill the group from top to bottom.

Rollins brought in Michael Rigas to lead AFPI’s 2025 personnel project. Rigas ran Trump’s Office of Personnel Management — the federal government’s HR department.  [Earlier this summer, AFPI launched the “American Leadership Initiative,” led by Rigas, to identify positions to cut or fill ahead of any new right-leaning administration.]


Axios notes that James Sherk, a former Heritage Foundation staffer who worked in Trump's Domestic Policy Council, helped prepare what became known as the "Schedule F" order which would potentially make it easier to fire tens of thousands of US federal employees.  Sherk is now at AFPI and published a lenghty report called "Tales from the Swamp" recounting ways that federal bureaucrats resisted implementing Trump policies.

Axios notes that CPI is a "who's-who" of Trump's former administration and the "America First" movement and has become the "hub of the hard right" in Washington.  It was founded by former Sen. Jim DeMint, the former head of the Heritage Foundation.  Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows joined CPI in 2021.

Here is a bit more on CPI from Axios:

The group’s senior staff includes Edward Corrigan, who worked on the Trump transition team’s personnel operation; Wesley Denton, who served in Trump’s Office of Management and Budget; Rachel Bovard, one of the conservative movement’s sharpest parliamentary tacticians; and attorney Cleta Mitchell, who was a key player in Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

The group runs its operations out of a brownstone a short walk from the Capitol building and the Supreme Court. They recruit, train and promote ideologically vetted staff for GOP offices on Capitol Hill and the next Republican administration. The ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus meets at CPI headquarters.

CPI's goal is to have at least 300 fully vetted "America First" staffers to supply GOP congressional offices after the midterms.  These new staffers would theoretically gain valuable experience to use on Capitol Hill but also incubate for a Trump administration in 2025.


Among other things, Axios notes that Russ Vought, the former head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) who founded CRA, could get a significant role in any future Trump Administration. 

In the final week of the Trump Administration, Vought met with Trump and shared his plans to start CRA and Trump gave Vought his blessing.  The CRA team now includes Kash Patel, Mark Paoletta, Ken Cuccinelli, and Jeffrey Clark, whom Trump attempted to install as Attorney General to help him remain in office

Beginning this year, Vought plans to release a series of policy papers detailing plans to dismantle the "administrative state," according to Axios.

On July 26, former President Donald Trump will return to Washington, DC - his first time since leaving office - to deliver the keynote address for AFPI's America First Agenda Summit.  AFPI is often described as "the White House in waiting."

Here is more on AFPI from Politico:

Under the Vision 2025 framework, Rollins and her team grew AFPI into a think tank with more than 150 employees, including 17 former senior White House staffers who include former Cabinet members like Small Business Administrator Administrator Linda McMahon and acting Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry. It also includes past senior administration officials like [Larry] Kudlow and even football coach-turned-Trump ally Lou Holtz. In all, there are 22 policy centers within AFPI focused on issues like “The Center for Election Integrity,” and the “Center for Media Accountability.”

The group has filed lawsuits against “big tech” and vaccine mandates. And in a sign of its fundraising power, it has an operating budget of $25 million, although funding sources for the nonprofit are publicly unknown, as those disclosure forms have not yet been released.

A newly published organizational agenda, provided to POLITICO in advance by AFPI, outlines the nonprofit’s focus in 10 areas, among them: “Make the Greatest Economy in the World Work for All Americans;” “Give Parents More Control over Their Children’s Education;” “Finish the Wall, End Human Trafficking, and Defeat the Drug Cartels;” “Make It Easy to Vote and Hard to Cheat;” “Provide Safe and Secure Communities so All Americans Can Live Their Lives in Peace;” and “Fight Government Corruption by Draining the Swamp.”

Trump has been supportive of the organization. He hosted a black tie gala fundraiser for AFPI at Mar-a-Lago last November and his PAC, Save America, donated $1 million. Some of the names on the organization’s roster — including Conway, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and pastor Paula Cain-White — remain in Trump’s orbit.


Politico notes that CPI and the Heritage Foundation "recently shored up their own plans" for the next conservative-led administration, with the 2025 Presidential Transition Project

Meanwhile, this evening, Trump's former vice president, Mike Pence, will deliver remarks on his proposed conservative agenda at the Heritage Foundation.  

In a piece entitled "Trumpism's New Washington Army," The Economist writes that "like-minded wonks and former Trump Administration officials are busy building think tanks and advocacy organization to provide the policies and, crucially, the personnel for a new Republican right." 

It notes that American Compass is among the "new think tanks that have sprung up" to translate ideas into policy.  It also knows that America First Legal, founded by former Trump aide Stephen Miller, is challenging the Biden Administration in court, mostly over any loosening of immigration rules.

The Economist also notes that Trump has helped raise money for CRA, which reportedly has been busy developing many of the policy and administrative plans that would likely form the foundation for a second-term Trump Administration.

It adds that two Silicon Valley-based philanthropies, the Hewlett Foundation and the Omidyar Network, have earmarked millions of dollars for organizations to develop alternatives to market-friendly policies.  American Affairs, American Compass, and American Moment have secured some of these grants.

In other related think tanks news, here is a new Washington Post piece on how Trump helped "revolutionize" the Claremont Institute from a "minor academic outfit to to a key Washington player" that is now facing blowback for standing by lawyer John Eastman after he counseled Trump over overturning the 2020 election.

Update: Former Trump aide Peter Navarro is asking Trump not to speak at the AFPI event on July 26 because he believes the think tank is insufficiently devoted to Trumpism.