On Monday, a cohort of former Trump administration officials launched the America First Policy Institute, a think tank organization aimed at promoting “liberty, free enterprise, national greatness, American military superiority, foreign-policy engagement in the American interest, and the primacy of American workers,” according to its website.
Trump quickly endorsed the effort, saying that the founders, which include his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, “have my full support as they work not only to preserve the historic accomplishments of my administration, but also to propel the America First Agenda into the future”
It’s the latest – and best-funded, with an initial budget of $20 million – example of how the 45th President and his supporters are building out a constellation of groups (political, legal and policy) that parallel the structure of the national Republican Party.
And yet more evidence that not only does Donald Trump have no plans to step away from politics, but that he is also constructing what amounts to a shadow version of the GOP.
The centerpiece of that shadow party is Trump’s Save America Super PAC, which he has been aggressively raising money for months – including during his extended efforts to protest the results of the 2020 election. According to a Trump aide who spoke with The New York Times, the PAC had $85 million in the bank earlier this month, roughly equivalent to the $84 million cash on hand that the Republican National Committee showed at that same time.
Trump has used – and will use – the PAC to fund his political activities. He has already promised to campaign against Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and endorsed, among others, Rep. Mo Brooks in the Alabama Senate race and Rep. Jody Hice’s bid to be the next Georgia secretary of state.
“I stand before you this evening filled with confidence that in 2022, we are going to take back the House and we are going to reclaim the Senate,” Trump told RNC donors over the weekend in Florida. “And then in 2024, a Republican candidate is going to win the White House.” (In that same speech, Trump also attacked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in deeply personal terms.)
There is also the America First Legal Foundation, which was formed in late March by longtime Trump confidante Stephen Miller for the purpose of organizing legal challenges to policies enacted by President Joe Biden and his administration. And yes, Trump publicly endorsed it, too – calling Miller “a fearless, principled fighter for the America First movement. He has backbone, integrity, and never gives up.”
And don’t forget the Conservative Partnership Institute, a sort-of training ground for future Trump conservatives that was founded by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint – and which former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows joined in January.
Taken together, the groups allow Trump to exert maximum influence over the party and its direction in not just the coming months but future years. And while the groups’ main goal will, undoubtedly, be to position to Trump to walk to the 2024 Republican nomination if he decides to pursue it, there are other reverberations — whether planned or not – from what is happening here.
The establishment wing of the Republican Party, with McConnell at its head, is trying to move along from Trump. McConnell slammed Trump for his role in the January 6 US Capitol riot (although he voted against convicting Trump on impeachment charges over his role). An outside group aligned with McConnell just endorsed Murkowski in Alaska.
The problem with that is two-fold: 1) Trump has zero interest in being moved on from and 2) The GOP base still sees Trump as its unquestioned leader.
The construction of Trump Inc. in the political space is evidence that the former President (and his many minions, hangers-on and family members) are not only in this for the long haul but have absolutely no problem in building an infrastructure designed to marginalize the establishment’s pillars of influence. What Trump is doing will force many major donors (and plenty of small-dollar donors too) to decide between giving to Trumpworld or the RNC as well as the various other establishment groups and committees that have always been the vessels through which conservative money flows.
And that is a BIG problem for the Republican establishment.