Trump’s shadow transition team – Politico
A year ago, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation dismissed Donald Trump as a big-government enthusiast and left-wing sympathizer.
Now, the Heritage Foundation has emerged as one of the most influential forces shaping President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team, embedding the veteran Washington group into the operation of a candidate who ran loudly against the Beltway.
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Part gate-keeper, part brain trust and part boots on the ground, Heritage is both a major presence on the transition team itself, and a crucial conduit between Trump’s orbit and the once-skeptical conservative leaders who ultimately helped get him elected.
Heritage is “absolutely the fulcrum, and essential to staffing the administration with people who reflect Trump’s commitments across the board,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the head of the prominent Susan B. Anthony List group, which opposes abortion rights. “I can say it’s been a source of great confidence during the election to know that principled people were planning for a Trump administration.”
Three sources from different conservative groups said that Heritage employees have been soliciting, stockpiling and vetting resumes for months with an eye on stacking Trump’s administration with conservative appointees across the government. One source described the efforts as a “shadow transition team,” and “an effort to have the right kind of people in there.”
A spokesman for the Heritage Foundation didn’t respond to requests for comment. Spokespeople for the Trump campaign also did not respond to requests for comment.
But there’s no question that the organization is recognized, among other conservative movement leaders, as the entry point into the Trump transition team.
After Heritage Action’s bruising assessment of Trump last November, Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint went on to meet with Trump during the campaign–and while there were certainly many tied to Heritage who preferred other candidates in the primary, the main organization largely steered clear of anti-Trump rhetoric throughout the rest of the election, instead assisting the candidate and his team with matters like determining potential Supreme Court justice nominees. That dynamic has helped pave the way for a relationship with an incoming administration that so heavily prizes loyalty.
Now, the transition is getting an assist from Heritage Foundation officials including Becky Norton Dunlop, a distinguished fellow at the Foundation; former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese, a distinguished fellow emeritus at Heritage; Heritage national security expert James Carafano and Ed Feulner, who helped found Heritage. Rebekah Mercer, a Heritage board member and major pro-Trump donor, is on the transition team’s 16-member executive committee and a transition team source said she is working with Heritage to recruit appointees for positions at the undersecretary level and below (though she has struggled to find people interested in taking lower-level jobs, according to a New York Times report).
The transition team also includes other prominent activists and thinkers with close ties to Heritage, such as former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the activist involved with several conservative groups who is running Trump’s domestic transition team. He has written for Heritage and has personal relationships with many at the organization.
“How do we get names that are important to us, how do we get those names to transition? Every time, it’s, ‘You need to get that to Ken Blackwell,’” said one source at a major conservative organization.
There are also staffers at the Foundation with close connections to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Trump’s pick for attorney general whose team has also played a key role on the Trump transition. DeMint, a former senator from South Carolina, quickly took to Twitter Friday morning to back up his onetime colleague after the Trump team made his selection official.
Also on Friday, the Trump transition announced its “landing teams” for key agencies—and Justin Johnson of the Heritage Foundation was listed on the Defense Department team, the only person listed who was identified with a think tank. On Monday, two other people associated with Heritage were listed in the latest installation of Trump’s landing team build-out.
Heritage, as a think tank, cannot engage in partisan campaign activity—they make their research available to everyone, staffers stress–but that doesn’t mean its members can’t advise candidates on both political and policy matters.
“Heritage has been very involved with this transition and the people that work at Heritage have been very involved with the people who work on the transition,” said James Wallner, the organization’s vice president for research. “We’re a non-partisan organization, our entire purpose is to do good, solid public policy research and get our ideas into the hands of people who need them.”
Perhaps Heritage’s most significant involvement during the campaign was its experts’ shaping of Trump’s list of Supreme Court choices, ultimately resulting in a selection of conservative thinkers who oppose abortion rights.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of that list, which was created in conjunction with the Heritage Foundation and the conservative Federalist Society.
Prior to Trump’s release of the list—the first installment came in May—many conservative activists and leaders were vehemently and vocally opposed to his candidacy. A significant number of them had supported Ted Cruz—an early Heritage darling who fared much better than Trump did in Heritage Action’s assessments of the candidates last year. They had serious reservations about backing Trump, with his inconsistent record on social issues and a flamboyant personal life that was often splashed all over the tabloids.