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Trump will not separate himself from Project 2025
Trump will not separate himself from Project 2025

For more than 40 years before he first ran for president, Donald Trump was busy convincing people to buy things. And not in an idealized sense of the best American capitalism: He sold real estate in New York City, which is a bit like selling used cars anywhere else. After all, he was just selling himself and his name, which was less grounded in reality and a good starting point for running for elected office.

We can see him selling real estate and the Trump brand as we sell his candidacies. He offers few details and sweeping claims, few concretes and lots of promises. He tells people what he thinks they want to hear, often trying to tell them different things at once. The goal is to sell something and deal with complaints once the money or vote is in hand.

This is evident in Trump’s efforts to distance his campaign from the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025, a plan to restructure the federal government for a Republican president that has become a target for Trump’s critics.

“I don’t know anything about Project 2025. I have no idea who is behind it,” Trump wrote on his social media platform. “I don’t agree with some of what they’re saying and some of what they’re saying is absolutely ridiculous and miserable. Whatever they do, I wish them luck, but I have nothing to do with them.”

He knows nothing about it… and disagrees with some of it. He thinks they’re doing ridiculous things… and wishes them luck. If you support Trump, you’ll see this as an opportunity to weed out problematic parts of the project’s proposals. If you’re an undecided voter (which Trump probably hopes you are), you’ll see this as Trump’s attempt to distance the plan from his campaign — so all of these news reports about the extreme parts of Project 2025 are at some distance from Trump himself.

There are only two problems with this classification. The first is that Project 2025 is obviously intertwined with Trump’s universe of allies and staff. And the second, related problem, is that a second Trump administration will be dependent on those allies and staff to run the government.

The conservative website Daily Signal – an offshoot of the Heritage Foundation – began promoting Project 2025 over a year ago, noting the involvement of Russ Vought, director of the Office of Management and Budget during Trump’s administration. It highlighted an interview between Heritage’s president and John McEntee, who joined Project 2025 in May 2023 to continue the work he began under Trump: maximizing the number of Trump loyalists in government.

In November, the Trump campaign first attempted to distance itself from Project 2025, with senior aides noting that “none of these groups or individuals speak for President Trump or his campaign.” That’s technically true. Trump has his own unrelated policy proposals that respond heavily to the state of the Republican presidential primaries when they are released in 2022 and 2023. But the idea that there is no overlap between the Trump campaign and Project 2025 is a fiction.

For example, as President Biden’s re-election campaign pointed out over the weekend, longtime Trump adviser Stephen Miller is featured in a video promoting Project 2025’s Presidential Administration Academy. Miller dismissed it as a “student advice video,” even though Project 2025’s voluminous “Mandate for Leadership” document is on a table next to him. (The video also features Trump campaign national press secretary Karoline Leavitt.) Miller’s organization, America First Legal, is also listed as a member of Project 2025’s advisory board.

Vought would almost certainly play a significant role in a second Trump administration, possibly as White House chief of staff. The same goes for McEntee, who said in a podcast this year that “we’re going to integrate a lot of our work with them” — where “our” means Project 2025 and “them” means the campaign.

“But,” he added, “I think separating these two things is actually the most beneficial way.”

That’s the point. It’s useful for Trump and his allies to maintain the perception of a barrier between what the 2025 Project documents – the desired outcomes of conservative and right-wing activists – and what the man on the ballot himself promises to do. Trump wants voters to assume he won’t simply implement what conservatives and the far-right elements of his party want to see. Then he wants to get elected and fill his administration with people who will do just that.

In this respect, Project 2025 is quite useful. Since Trump does not explain in detail what he intends to do as president, he has little choice but to figure out what his appointees might do. And the Heritage Foundation has put together a 900-plus page work that gives voice to many potential candidates. Its Presidential Administration Academy specifically aims to collect resumes of lesser-known people who might be considered for the lower levels of a Trump administration and to educate them all on the desired outcomes of Project 2025.

“Personnel is policy,” Morton Blackwell observed back when Trump was still selling condos in Manhattan. That remains true today — especially for a candidate who abhors policy details. So Project 2025 is not a blueprint for how Trump would run the federal government, but rather a representation of the views of the kind of people who would be responsible for running that government.

There is no reason to believe Trump agrees with everything in Project 2025. But identifying the specific things that are “ridiculous and abysmal” means endorsing everything else. It means laying out his policy proposals in detail, which he will not do. And so he remains burdened with the proposals of people who want to work for him and ultimately could work for him – if their proposals don’t drag down his candidacy first.

By Everly