A coalition of conservative leaders and former political appointees has compiled a game plan for the next conservative president to restructure the federal government’s bureaucracy to make it more cost effective, high performing, and accountable to Americans. If that project had existed in 2016, Donald Trump would have achieved more faster as president, a leader in the Trump administration says.
Project 2025, a four-part approach to rooting out the deep state and enabling a conservative president to rein in Washington, would have supercharged the Trump presidency and can have a similar effect in 2025 if a conservative retakes the Oval Office, according to Ken Cuccinelli, a former attorney general of Virginia who was deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security under Trump.
“We were really planning for a second term,” Cuccinelli told The Daily Signal, admitting that his team was unable to implement “structural changes” at DHS during his tenure from June 2019 until January 2021.
“Hopefully, if we go back and look at that time again, if the resource we’re building in Project 2025 had existed then, they’d have gotten a much faster start,” he said in an interview on “The Daily Signal Podcast.”
“There would’ve been structural change going on in the first [Trump] term as opposed to just fights with the bureaucracy that never really resulted in structural change in many parts of the government,” Cuccinelli said. “We really need, as conservatives, we need to shrink the government and we need to restructure it to run on a smaller basis. And that’s universal, that isn’t just DHS, that’s all of government. We’re bankrupt, in case anybody didn’t notice, and we have to take that seriously.”
The Heritage Foundation helped launch the 2025 Presidential Transition Project (also known as Project 2025) to avoid the pitfalls Trump faced in 2017. (The Daily Signal is The Heritage Foundation’s news outlet.)
As the incoming president, Trump struggled to keep his promises to the American people, facing stiff headwinds from a hostile federal bureaucracy Trump often referred to as “the deep state.” Project 2025 aims to equip an incoming conservative president with policies to rein in this bureaucracy.
Even though the Constitution vests the president with the power to execute the laws, the administrative state often acts contrary to a conservative president’s agenda and promises to the American people. Interests such as public-sector unions and complicated regulations often shield bureaucrats from accountability to the elected president and his political appointees.
Meanwhile, the national debt stands at $31.5 trillion, trillions more than the amount of goods and services America created last year ($25.7 trillion)
“Having a coherent, conservative game plan that the conservative movement has already bought into is absolutely invaluable,” Cuccinelli explained. He noted that Rick Dearborn, executive director of the Trump transition, said he wishes he had Project 2025 in 2016.
In order to succeed, the project needs to gain support from the eventual presidential nominee and the eventual president, so the project is “candidate agnostic.” However, Cuccinelli noted that “personnel was such a problem” in the Trump administration, and this project would address that key problem.
Project 2025 consists of four “pillars”: a massive book, “Mandate for Leadership 2025,” that lays out the overall strategy and specific recommendations for different government agencies; a database of conservatives for the president to choose to staff his or her administration; training for those who sign up for the database; and a blueprint for executive orders to help a new administration hit the ground running.
The whole project “would be just a game changer for the ability to get started faster, to be having impact sooner, and to use those limited years to get more done and to get more of better, higher quality, longer-lasting policy done that really improves Americans’ lives across the board,” Cuccinelli explained.
Virginia’s former attorney general noted that “a conservative president doesn’t get to these substantive changes, learning how to restructure the government, until toward the end of a first [term], or sometimes even toward the end of a second term, because it’s so hard to actually achieve this change and the bureaucracy is so entrenched.”
“There is dead weight in all these agencies,” Cuccinelli lamented. While he noted that “there are truly dedicated public servants” who “actually implement what the politically elected, electorally chosen leadership of your government seeks to implement,” many do not.
“The firings are needed, for the people who are incompetent and who are just collecting government check as a form of workfare; and for the people who are oppositional, they aren’t public servants,” the former DHS official explained. “They’re there to serve their agenda, and those people need to go. That’s the deep state at work.”
Due to Project 2025, Cuccinelli predicted, if a conservative wins the 2024 presidential election, he or she will enter office with an edge Trump did not have, even toward the end of his administration.
“We will be far better prepared, come January 2025, to clear those people out very quickly on an as-needed basis than we ever were at any point in the Trump administration,” he said.
Cuccinelli edited the chapter in “Mandate for Leadership 2025” on the Department of Homeland Security, which starts with a simple recommendation: Break up the department. That doesn’t mean failing to enforce immigration law or dropping the ball on what DHS does right now, but rather separating its constituent parts to make them more effective.
Cuccinelli mentioned the Federal Emergency Management Agency as an example. While Americans often think of FEMA as a first responder to emergencies, it actually exists to back up states, which are the first responders, he explained.
“If we focus them more narrowly, when they’re deployed, they will do a better job,” Cuccinelli said of FEMA. He endorsed “conservative, limited-government approaches like that” throughout DHS.
He also emphasized that Project 2025 is looking for potential staff for a conservative president’s administration from “far outside D.C.”
Cuccinelli noted that conservatives live across the country, even in the Golden State. “There are conservatives in California—they are covered by the Endangered Species Act, but they exist,” he quipped.
He said Project 2025 is trying to “encourage those people to start thinking now about coming to Washington to change America and be part of that program.”
Cuccinelli ended with a challenge to conservatives.
“If you’re a conservative, if you’ve got professional skills, if you’re willing to do battle with the bureaucracy, which I can tell you is fun, and you’re willing to move—because a lot, though not all of it, is in D.C.—then we want you to start thinking about it now,” Cuccinelli said. “Start ordering your professional life to maybe be available come January of 2025 to move to D.C.; take a hiatus from your professional life and come help change America.”
Content created by Tyler O’Neil
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