When Reagan came to office, the Heritage Foundation influenced policy with a thick, detailed handbook of proposals. When Trump came in, the think tank provided not only proposals but names.
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.
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.
Thush and Erica L. Green describe Heritage's role in Trump's agenda:Here's how the Trump policy shop worked in the 2016 campaign:— Glenn Thrush (@GlennThrush) June 22, 2018
Staffers would watch Trump's speeches on TV, then Google policy-type stuff that seemed to match what he was saying, then write white papers.
Or they'd just browse the Heritage site. https://t.co/GtwdfRZIGP
Benjamin Hobbs, a former employee of Heritage and the Charles Koch Foundation, who received a top policy job at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, was a driving force behind a proposal to raise rents on some of the poorest residents of subsidized housing by as much as 44 percent, according to two administration officials.
In a recent meeting, Mr. Hobbs raised eyebrows by claiming the increases were intended, in part, to persuade unmarried couples to move in with each other to pool rent payments, according to two people in attendance.
Mr. Carson, his boss, broadly supports the idea of reducing dependence, aides said, but was lukewarm on the idea. The backlash to the proposal was so severe that Mr. Carson, speaking this month in Detroit, wavered when asked whether he planned to back legislation needed to achieve the hikes.
Rick Dearborn, another former employee at Heritage, who served as deputy chief of staff for Mr. Trump during his first year in office, steered a total of about 70 Heritage-linked experts into policy roles in the White House and various cabinet departments.
At the same time, Mr. Bannon, who was Mr. Trump’s most influential aide at the dawn of the presidency, enlisted one of Heritage’s founders, Edwin J. Feulner Jr., to help create a list of action items on scaling back social welfare programs days after Mr. Trump’s inauguration.
Heritage had just received a multimillion-dollar commitment from Mr. Bannon’s former benefactor, Rebekah Mercer, according to two people familiar with the gift. Much of the cash was informally earmarked, they said, to help Mr. Trump expand his near nascent policy operation, according to two people familiar with the details of the donation.
By early 2017, Heritage produced a government reorganization plan that served as the initial template for Thursday’s announcement. They also drafted a list of 334 policy recommendations, about half of them aimed at domestic programs for poor people or Obama-era regulations protecting low-income consumers.
“Once the transition started, we seized on the opportunity to help out and define the policy agenda of the next administration,” said Paul Winfree, a social policy expert at Heritage, who once worked for the Domestic Policy Council coordinating administration policy of social welfare programs and entitlements.
“Even when many thought Trump had no chance, Heritage researchers and alumni were working hard over on implementation plans,” said Mr. Winfree. “We went to work while much attention was paid to the palace intrigue or on personalities. Having one big personality isn’t enough to change a government. Having many good people, who know and trust each other, in the right places is the key.”