Tuesday, July 9, 2024

What is Project 2025?

 If any issue other than Joe Biden’s mental state is dominating the political discussion these days, it is Project 2025. While making my rounds on the interwebs, I’m increasingly seeing references to Project 2025 from my Democrat friends with sinister undertones. The posts often challenge other users to “look it up.”

So what is Project 2025? And perhaps more importantly, is it something to be alarmed about?

Photo credit: Project2025.org (Fair Use)

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To start with, Project 2025 is a brainchild of the Heritage Foundation, a prominent conservative think tank founded in 1973. Project 2025 is Heritage’s blueprint for an upcoming Republican presidential administration, not necessarily under Donald Trump.

As Heritage describes it, “The project will create a playbook of actions to be taken in the first 180 days of the new Administration to bring quick relief to Americans suffering from the Left’s devastating policies.”

The plan is not a secret. The entire plan is posted on the Project 2025 website and runs nearly 1,000 pages. There are a multitude of sections on different topics by many different authors, almost none of whom I recognized. I have no plans to read it all. In addition to the written agenda, the site also includes applications for a “presidential administration academy” and a database where people interested in working in a new Republican administration can add their names to a personnel database.

There is some debate on how closely the Trump campaign is working with Heritage on Project 2025. Many of the authors are Trump Administration alums, but the report was copyrighted in 2023 before Trump secured the nomination. Still, Trump’s nomination was never seriously in doubt.

The Former Guy has denied knowledge of Project 2025 in the same message that he claimed to disagree with some parts of it. In the same breath, Trump wrote, “I wish them luck, but I have nothing to do with them.” (As an aside, our Ordinary Times buddy, Andrew Donaldson, had the perfect description of Trump’s post on the platform formerly known as Twitter.) Trump also definitely knows and has praised Kevin Roberts, the head of Heritage.

You can choose your own adventure here, but I think it’s likely that Trump is ignorant of what is in Project 2025 to a great extent but excited about anything that would give him more power. This is tough since Trump already believes that Article II lets him do whatever he wants. It’s difficult to expand absolute power.

The meme below is a common post that I see virally making its way around the internet. Some of the alleged plans in Project 2025 will sound attractive to Republicans, but some are alarming and intrusive even for conservatives. It would take a full article to fact-check even the 19 claims in this meme, but I think it’s fair to look closer at some of the claims.

Photo credit: Twitter screenshot from @mmpadellan

Take number 11 for instance, which the meme claims would “allow Trump to deploy the military against American citizens.” Alarming, if true.

I quickly figured out that it’s hard to link the opposition claims to specific passages in the document. The memes are not annotated and don’t carry direct quotes. I did find some opposition guides that gave citations to back up their claims about Project 2025, such as this one from Democracy Forward. After searching the Project 2025 document and Democracy Forward’s guide, I didn’t find anything resembling an authorization for the use of troops against the American people, but it may already exist.

David French recently pointed out that the Insurrection Act gives the president broad authority to deploy American soldiers domestically, and the recent Trump immunity decision insulates the president from oversight in exercising his constitutional powers. Indeed, a number of former Trump Administration officials have warned that Trump would consider implementing the Insurrection Act against protesters after his inauguration.

Still, I don’t see this in Project 2025. If anyone has a citation for this claim, I’ll gladly take a look at it.

Lynn Schmidt pointed out in The Fulcrum that Chris Miller, Trump’s last Acting Defense Secretary and one of the few names that I recognized, argued the president “should rigorously review all general and flag officer promotions to prioritize the core roles and responsibilities of the military over social engineering and non-defense related matters, including climate change, critical race theory, manufactured extremism, and other polarizing policies….” The emphasis is on policies from the left, of course, and makes no mention of right-wing conspiracy theories, but this policy would have the effect of politicizing the military’s officer corps.

Miller continues, “The next President should limit the continued advancement of many of the existing cadre, many of whom have been advanced by prior Administrations for reasons other than their warfighting prowess.”

This could be interpreted by a Trump-like president as a license to not promote officers who are not loyal to him personally. Under the Constitution, the president is commander-in-chief and has authority over military personnel. Under the Supreme Court’s recent decision on presidential immunity, this core constitutional power is not reviewable by Congress or the courts. To be fair, this is not specifically recommended by the report.

The meme also claims that Project 2025 would “reverse the FDA’s approval of abortion medication.” This is absolutely true and was easy to find.

On page 458, Roger Severino writes, “Reverse its approval of chemical abortion drugs because the politicized approval process was illegal from the start.”

Severino advises doing this using the FDA’s bureaucratic rulemaking powers, which ironically might be newly limited by the Supreme Court’s recent reversal of the Chevron deference doctrine. Executive branch agencies no longer have the freedom to fully reinterpret laws with each successive administration. The Supreme Court recently rejected a lawsuit seeking to force the reversal of FDA approval of abortion-inducing drugs, but it isn’t clear whether the agency could voluntarily rescind the approval.

Project 2025 also addresses mail-order prescriptions for these drugs. On page 459, Severino recommends, “Stop promoting or approving mail-order abortions in violation of long-standing federal laws that prohibit the mailing and interstate carriage of abortion drugs.”

A third claim is that Project 2025 would “gut the federal workforce and install loyalists.” In the Central Personnel Agencies section, a group of three authors advocates for streamlining and limiting the appeals of fired federal workers (page 75). The authors also favor a reduction in force that would begin with “a freeze on all top career-position hiring to prevent ‘burrowing-in’ by outgoing political appointees” (page 79). The authors also say, “It would make sense to give the President direct supervision of the bureaucracy with the OPM Director available in his Cabinet” (page 83) and favor a merit system for federal employees Project 2025 recommends reimplementing Trump’s Schedule F (page 80), which would reclassify large numbers of federal workers as political appointees to make them easier to fire… and replace with new political appointees.

The AP reported recently that conservative activist Tom Jones (apparently not the singer) was working under a $100,000 grant from Heritage to, as the AP puts it, “post 100 names of government workers to a website this summer to show a potential new administration who might be standing in the way of a second-term Trump agenda — and ripe for scrutiny, reclassifications, reassignments or firings.” This would essentially be doxxing federal workers based on their political beliefs.

Although the wording is obscure in Project 2025, the claim that Heritage wants to “gut” the federal workforce and allow current workers to be replaced with Trump loyalists seems to be true.

If you have any doubts, consider this exchange between Michael Steele, former chairman of the RNC, and Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation on MSNBC:

Steele: "Talk to us about what that looks like if Heritage is calling for removing 50,000 federal employees. Who are you replacing them with and where do they come from? I suspect a lot of those people you are talking about have been in the federal service for a long time and have served not just Republican administrations, but also Democratic administrations.”

Roberts: "They have and 95 percent of them who give political contributions give them to the Democratic Party."

Steele: "So you're going to fire someone because they wrote a check to a Democratic candidate?"

Roberts: "No, we're going to fire someone and the number needs to be more than 50,000, considering there are more than 2 million federal employees because over the last century the radical left has seen the administration state as the fourth branch of government. They're unelected bureaucrats... but ultimately we have to devolve power from the imperial city of Washington back to the people.”

Further, Roberts has admitted separately that Heritage is recruiting large numbers of Trump loyalists to fill the newly vacant positions. In February, Roberts told religious broadcasters, “Our Project 2025 has developed a comprehensive policy agenda but even more importantly recruiting people, 20,000 people, to go into the next administration hopefully to help take back this country for you and for your audiences.”

Another item on the meme that was easy to find was number 12, allowing ICE to conduct immigration raids at schools, churches, and hospitals. This is confirmed on page 142 where Ken Cuccinelli (yes, that Ken Cuccinelli) writes, “All ICE memoranda identifying ‘sensitive zones’ where ICE personnel are prohibited from operating should be rescinded.”

A quick search for “ICE sensitive zones” informed me that these include schools, healthcare facilities, places children gather, places where disaster relief is provided, funerals, weddings, and places of worship. The last is especially disappointing (and hypocritical) since Republicans made such an issue of mask mandates and emergency limits on gatherings in churches during the pandemic. Apparently, freedom of worship and the inviolability of places of worship only go so far (reference Leviticus 19:33-34 and numerous other verses).

Not everything in Project 2025 is part of a MAGA wish list. For example, on page 182, Kiron Skinner opines, “The end goal of the [Russo-Ukrainian] conflict must be the defeat of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a return to pre-invasion border lines.” That’s not going to play well in an increasingly Putinist party.

It is unclear just how much of Project 2025 could be implemented. The absolute immunity conferred on the president by the Supreme Court is not absolute authority to act. Some parts of Project 2025 could be done by Executive Order or by bureaucratic rulemaking (unless the Supreme Court stands its ground on Chevron), but some would have to go through Congress. The outcome of down-ballot races this year will determine whether the Project 2025 legislative agenda is DOA or a real possibility.

The courts are a wild card. A lot of people assume that the Supreme Court is in Donald Trump’s pocket after the immunity decision, but the other half of the equation is that the Court has rained one body blow after another on the Republican agenda this term. The outcome of challenges to facets of Project 2025 would depend on the facts of the particular case as well as which Court shows up that day.

Whether you agree with the goals laid out in Project 2025 or not, a lot of the criticism about the content of the report seems to be accurate. Other claims that I didn’t check personally, like cuts to Medicare and privatizing Social Security, are probably accurate as well since these are longstanding Republican positions. Some claims, such as privatizing Social Security and raising the retirement age, are fair game for criticism even though they are not in Project 2025 because they have been proposed by Republicans in other pieces of legislation. Still other claims from the critics, like establishing detention camps, aren’t specifically mentioned but would be a reasonable interpretation of policies advocated in Project 2025 such as “prioritizing border security and immigration enforcement, including detention and deportation” (page 135). Detained illegals have to be kept somewhere.

The problems with reading the document are the dry technical language is a) suitable for curing insomnia and b) obscures the ultimate effect of a lot of the policies being discussed. It’s easy to read the report without understanding the implications of what you’re reading. On the other hand, thankfully, some of the worst hyperbole is not apparent in the report and seems to be inaccurate.

There is a lot to be concerned about, however. Project 2025 is a power grab. If there’s any doubt about this, listen to Kevin Roberts as he describes Project 2025 as a “bloodless revolution.”

In an ominous separate tweet, Heritage said, “The Second American Revolution will remain bloodless if the Left allows it to be.”

That sounds like a threat. It’s also lacking in self-awareness after the events of January 6.

Parts of Project 2025 violate traditional norms, such as the concern with the political beliefs of military officers. Violating norms and tradition will be made easier by the Trump immunity ruling that gives the presidency increased authority without oversight, not to mention the unwillingness of Republicans their party’s head no matter what he does. This is a dangerous combination for any president but particularly so in the hands of Donald Trump.

The power grab is also poorly timed. This is going to be a close election. The country is evenly divided and a great many people oppose the MAGA agenda. Project 2025 represents an immense overreach that will undoubtedly result in an electoral backlash if Republicans try to implement it.

Both parties have a tendency to grasp for everything they ever wanted when given power. They either assume that they might lose power quickly so they’d better take advantage or that they can act with impunity because the thought of losing power never occurs to them. Trump did it in 2017 and Joe Biden did it in 2021. So did a lot of other presidents. A rebuke from the voters usually comes quickly.

It is very unlikely that, even if Donald Trump wins the election, he will be able to legitimately claim a mandate. He and his agenda are not popular, and despite President Biden’s failings, the race is close and will remain so. A massive power grab that includes dismissing large numbers of federal employees and military personnel based on their mainstream political beliefs would definitely provoke a backlash. People who vote Trump because they are concerned about Biden’s mental fitness are not necessarily signing up to join the revolution, and it would be a monumental mistake for Republicans to make this assumption (as Democrats did when they assumed that anti-Trump voters were left-wing progressives).

Project 2025 is not as sinister as Democrats claim, but it is also not as innocent as Republicans would have you believe. I could support some parts of the agenda (such as the pro-fatherhood messaging campaign on page 481), but I’m very concerned about others. It can be difficult to wade through the technocratic jargon to determine exactly what is being proposed, but there is enough disturbing content that the Republican vision presented in Project 2025 should be scrutinized even more closely.

The contents of Project 2025 will be popular with the Republican base. Not so much with casual Republican voters who might not like Democrats but don’t want to eliminate the Department of Education (page 319), limit eligibility for Medicaid (page 467), or privatize the FAA (page 633).

The Republicans are telling us exactly what they want to do if they win control of the government. It is up to Americans to educate themselves on their agenda and decide whether they want to take a chance on the party that is lining up to implement Project 2025.

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Here are a few more details that I found in Project 2025 with page numbers. Readers will differ on whether these proposals are good or not, but they are in Project 2025.

  • Restructuring and possible elimination of the Department of Homeland Security (137)

  • Shrink or eliminate intelligence and analysis role of the Intelligence Community (167)

  • “Top-to-bottom overhaul” of the Department of Justice and FBI (547)

  • Reverse policies “subsidizing single-motherhood, disincentivizing work, and penalizing marriage” (284)

  • “Affirm an ‘all of the above’ energy policy” (364)

  • “Congress should repeal Title I, Title II, and Title VIII of the Dodd–Frank Act” (705)

  • “Identify every Treasury official who participated in DEI initiatives and

    interview him or her for the purpose of determining the scope and nature of

    these initiatives and to ensure that such initiatives are completely ended.” (708)

  • “Treat the participation in any critical race theory or DEI initiative,

    without objecting on constitutional or moral grounds, as per se grounds for

    termination of [federal] employment.” (708)

  • “The best way to promote trade and development is to reduce tariff and non-tariff trade barriers.” (710)

  • Eliminate NOAA (664)

  • EPA “will have to undergo a major reorganization” (421)

  • “The U.S. nuclear arsenal needs to be updated and reinvigorated” (372)

  • "The “executive branch” should “use its independent resources

    and authorities to restrain the excesses of both the legislative and judicial branches.” (560)


DEMOCRATIC NOMINATION: As calls for him to step aside increase, President Biden told critics to “challenge me at the convention.” Meanwhile, the Trump campaign has been uncharacteristically quiet in attacking Biden lately. I wonder why.

SNL XIEMU AD: Dan Crenshaw shared this SNL faux ad for “Xiemu.” It’s worth your time: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2421249738072251&rdid=UDOhvljuwK1iPkpr

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