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Analysis

A Dangerous Vision for the Presidency

Project 2025 proposes a giant leap for authoritarianism.

July 10, 2024

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Usually politicians pretend to read books they haven’t opened. Donald Trump made news last week when he claimed not to have read a book, one written by his friends and allies. The 887-page doorstopper is the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025 book Trump claimed to “know nothing about Project 2025” and have “no idea who is behind it.”

Why that transparent fib? Perhaps Trump wanted some distance from Kevin Roberts, leader of the Heritage Foundation. “We are in the process of the second American revolution, which will remain bloodless,” Roberts declared, “if the left allows it to be.” Perhaps, too, Trump realized that if the public knew what was in the plan, it would send chills. 

The Heritage Foundation is a long-standing Washington, DC, think tank. Brennan Center followers know it as an early purveyor of the Big Lie. The foundation continues to claim incessantly and shamelessly that there is widespread voter fraud, despite ample evidence to the contrary. With Project 2025, Heritage is once again thinking big. 

Project 2025 is an aggressive and ambitious policy agenda, a blueprint for a vast expansion of presidential power. Trump’s close associates help lead the project. Johnny McEntee, former director of Oval Office operations, was a senior advisor. Another, Russ Vought, who claims we are living in a “post-constitutional time,” may be White House chief of staff. The Trump campaign’s press secretary starred in a recruitment video for Project 2025. The authors’ will to power leaps out from page after page.  

For all of this, Project 2025 is a perverse testament to the power of ideas. 

Liberals might learn something.

Above all else, it espouses a maximalist version of the “unitary executive theory,” the notion that the president personally controls the executive branch and can act free from checks and balances. It’s a fancy version of what Trump told civics students in 2019: “I have an Article II [of the Constitution], where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.”

This agenda, which would undermine the independence of executive branch agencies, would reverse decades of efforts to depoliticize law enforcement, fiscal policy, and science. Take the FBI. After abuses by J. Edgar Hoover, federal law gave the bureau’s director a 10-year term, thus extending the job across presidential terms and minimizing political involvement. Project 2025 would give the president the power to hire an FBI director loyal only to him. It would upend the Justice Department, the Food and Drug Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and many other critical agencies. It would impose political and ideological control over questions like who should be prosecuted, what medicines are safe, and whether friends of the president should be given a pass on insider trading.

The Project 2025 book sets out in detail the plan to fire tens of thousands of civil servants and replace them with loyalists. Trump tried to implement a similar scheme, known as Schedule F, near the end of his term but ran out of time. Now, the Heritage Foundation writes, “Empowering political appointees across the Administration is crucial to a President’s success.” This may sound bland, but it is a truly radical proposal. No president has ever sought anything like this power. It is inherently corrupt.

The book is stuffed with stratagems to advance Christian nationalist social policies. The authors call the pharmaceutical abortion treatment mifepristone “the single greatest threat to unborn children in a post-Roe world.” They demand “a campaign to enforce the criminal prohibitions” that originated in the 19th-century Comstock Act, which banned the mailing of “abortion-related paraphernalia.” It aims to override most Americans’ preference for abortion rights, and it makes a mockery of right-wing promises to leave such decisions to the states.

In a particularly Orwellian turn, Project 2025 would bar from all federal regulations and contracts terms including “sexual orientation and gender identity (‘SOGI’), diversity, equity, and inclusion (‘DEI’), gender, gender equality, gender equity, gender awareness, gender-sensitive, abortion, reproductive health, [and] reproductive rights.”

This vision of an all-powerful president might read like right-wing fan fiction. But Trump would have more power to implement this than any president in years. 

The Supreme Court in Trump v. United States blessed executive lawlessness, astonishingly declaring that presidents have a presumption of full immunity from criminal prosecution if their crimes were part of “official acts.” Other high court rulings would block regulatory agencies from acting below the eye level of the president, using a variety of pseudoconstitutional pretexts to give conservative judges the final say over much of social policy. 

Then there’s Congress, which should check an overweening executive. But both parties have largely given up that role when it comes to presidents of their own party. New Republican leadership will be less inclined than before to buck Trump.  

This time, Trump would not be surrounded by “adults in the room.” As a novice, he picked a cabinet for reassurance — or because, as with silver-haired Rex Tillerson, they looked the part. Now he is surrounded by skilled ideologues.

Many are awakening to the radicalism of Project 2025 and Trump’s second-term plans. Groups such as the Center for American Progress are releasing detailed critiques. Democratic politicians have begun to decry the plan. It remains to be seen whether a book can become a campaign villain. 

In all of this, I do give the Heritage Foundation credit. There is value in setting out what you want to do. 

In 1980, Ronald Reagan was seen as a lightweight, and Heritage was only a few years old. Back then, it compiled a detailed and conservative agenda for Reagan to use. Nobody had done that before. Firebrands such as the Environmental Protection Agency administrator Anne Gorsuch (yes, Neil’s mom) implemented its goals. They remade government. “Ideas have consequences” was the mantra of the Reagan Revolution.  

Once again, Project 2025 projects a transgressive thrill in its radicalism. In 1986, the president of the Heritage Foundation quoted Vladimir Lenin: “Ideas are much more fatal things than guns.”