Democrats focus attacks on right-wing Project 2025 pushed by Trump allies

By Josh Dawsey,
and Hannah Knowles

WASHINGTON - President Biden and other Democrats are increasingly focusing their attacks on an aggressive right-wing agenda called Project 2025 that is being pushed by allies of presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump — prompting Trump and his team to lash out in recent days at supporters of the effort.

Many Democrats have assessed that the best message for their candidate — whether it is Biden, who is trailing in polls and facing calls to drop out after a damaging debate performance, or another candidate — is to focus on what Trump might do in a second term, particularly as it relates to abortion rights, retribution against his enemies, mass deportations and the environment.

They hope to make a household phrase of Project 2025, which is designed as a policy and personnel platform for a Republican administration, Democrats close to Biden say. The group’s website, anchored by the Heritage Foundation, includes 30 chapters — written by more than a dozen former Trump appointees and others — that come from dozens of leading conservative groups.

The exhaustive plan calls for, among other things, dismantling the Department of Education, passing sweeping tax cuts, imposing sharp limits on abortion, giving the White House greater influence over the Justice Department, reducing efforts to limit climate change and increasing efforts to promote fossil fuels, drastically cutting and changing the federal workforce, and giving the president more power over the civil service.

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It also includes building an “army” of conservatives ready to take jobs should Trump win in 2025. The project was partially fueled by a desire to be ready for “Day One” of a conservative presidency. Vacancies in key jobs, for example, contributed to chaos during Trump’s first term.

“Our goal is to assemble an army of aligned, vetted, trained and prepared conservatives to go to work on Day One to deconstruct the Administrative State,” Paul Dans, the project’s director, said on the project website.

Amid growing news coverage and Democratic attacks on the plan, Trump sought last week to distance himself from the proposals crafted by his former appointees — saying on his Truth Social platform that he knows “nothing about Project 2025.”

“I have no idea who is behind it,” he wrote Friday. “I disagree with some of the things they’re saying and some of the things they’re saying are absolutely ridiculous and abysmal. Anything they do, I wish them luck, but I have nothing to do with them.”

But Trump shares many policy goals with Project 2025. For example, he wants to end subsidies for electric vehicles and ramp up domestic production of nonrenewable energy, to crack down on undocumented immigrants and to empower the president to fire people he calls “rogue bureaucrats” in the civil service. The project’s 900-plus page “Mandate for Leadership” goes into far more granular detail than the plans laid out on Trump’s website, however, and he has stayed away from proposals such as sharply curbing access to abortion medication.

Regardless, Biden’s campaign and allies are going to make what they characterize as the most extreme proposals from Trump allies a core element of their campaign. They have issued dozens of news releases mentioning the project — including five on Friday alone — and are asking surrogates, allies and others to talk about Project 2025 as often as they can.

Democrats also plan to couple Project 2025 attacks with the sweeping Supreme Court ruling that grants a president expansive powers in carrying out “official acts” without fear of prosecution for a crime — arguing that it would turbocharge Trump’s ability to enact an extreme right-wing agenda.

“It is really important that voters understand that Donald Trump in a second term would be far worse, far more dangerous and far more extreme than he was even in his first term,” said TJ Ducklo, a senior adviser on the Biden campaign. “That is a core argument that we are making and must continue to make to voters, and Project 2025 is one of the most effective ways we can make that point.”

A tight focus on Trump’s agenda is all the more necessary, some Democrats said, amid turmoil over their ticket. One Democratic strategist close to the Biden campaign, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly, said Democrats need to do something that, in their view, Republicans have usually done more effectively: “Instill fear in the American people.”

“We have to get them to think the threat to their fundamental way of life is worse than the president dying in office,” the strategist said.

Biden said the words “Project 2025” for the first time in the campaign’s most-viewed TikTok video of the president in June. After the debate, a post on the Biden HQ TikTok account explicitly pushed back on suggestions that the president would drop out while raising alarms about Project 2025. “When you go home, Google Project 2025,” Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) told a Biden rally audience in Madison on Friday.

“Project 2025 is a political gift from the heavens,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a former adviser to President Barack Obama. “Donald Trump’s political strength is that he is a Rorschach test to a lot of voters, and the Heritage Foundation did [Democrats] the favor of filling in the details of his agenda in incredibly vivid and clarifying terms.”

Trump aides have long viewed Project 2025 as unhelpful and have sought distance from the plan, saying Trump doesn’t embrace many of the proposals. They have privately lashed out at aligned groups, telling them to stop promoting such work, people familiar with the calls said.

Still, some of Project 2025’s architects have been appointed by his campaign to work on the Republican Party’s platform and have met with Trump.

Trump advisers are discussing whether the former president should denounce the work more forcefully on a regular basis, fearing that it will be an albatross this fall.

For months, Trump advisers Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles have privately and publicly attacked the effort. On at least five occasions, they have met and talked with the groups involved, asking them to tamp it down, according to people familiar with the calls, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions. LaCivita, in particular, has gotten particularly animated about his opposition, the people said. Trump has gotten angry, four advisers said, when others have claimed to know what he would do in a second term.

“It makes no sense to put all the crazy things you’ll be attacked for down on paper while you’re running,” a Trump adviser said. “Who thinks, let’s put it all down on paper so we can get attacked in advance, even though we haven’t run it by the president?”

Vince Haley and Ross Worthington, two Trump aides, have tried to ratchet up the campaign’s own policy proposals. A spokeswoman for the Trump campaign referred to Trump’s post on Truth Social and said only agenda items on the Trump campaign’s website should be considered to represent his views.

His campaign has also tried to downplay some of the more incendiary things Trump has said, while focusing on policies they believe test well with voters. Campaign advisers have sought to avoid calling for a federal abortion ban in the Republican Party platform, encouraged Trump to stop saying he is out for “retribution,” tried to limit his praise of defendants convicted in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and urged him not to make false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. The efforts have had a limited effect at best.

Trump aides are particularly annoyed at the Heritage Foundation’s role in pushing Project 2025, two senior advisers said. “We say knock it off, but there is just more,” a top Trump adviser said.

“Poke the Bear you are going to be bit: Trump torches Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025,” LaCivita posted Friday on X.

Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts said in a statement that Project 2025 does not speak for Trump or his campaign and that it is “no surprise that [the] political consultant class has joined their allies in the corporate media in promoting a false narrative” about the effort.

“The proposals in Project 2025 are designed to restore self-government to the American people, an overwhelmingly popular proposition. We welcome the attention,” Roberts said.

In a recent interview with Real America’s Voice, Roberts said liberals are “apoplectic” because the political right is winning.

“We are in the process of the second American revolution, which will remain bloodless, if the left allows it to be,” Roberts said — a sound bite that was promptly clipped and shared by the Biden campaign.

In recent weeks, Biden advisers have been surprised at how much traction “Project 2025” has gotten.

Google searches for the term have spiked, along with mentions by left-leaning influencers, according to a Washington Post analysis of political influencers’ discussions on social media, podcasts and newsletters. The campaign has done some outreach to influencers about Project 2025, but others have raised the topic on their own, a Biden adviser said. Mentions began to soar in June and have been increasing every week — overwhelmingly on the Democratic side.

Celebrities including Mark Hamill and Lizzo posted about the effort recently. The topic also got exposure at last weekend’s BET Awards, where the actress Taraji P. Henson warned about Project 2025 from the stage and reached some of the Black voters that the Biden campaign is desperate to win over and motivate. Other Black influencers, including radio host Charlamagne tha God, helped produce an earlier spike in mentions.

Voters in swing states sometimes brought up Project 2025 unprompted in recent interviews.

“Project 2025 is scary, Trump himself is scary, the whole Republican Party is,” said Cynthia Carlson, a 54-year-old resident of Madison, Wis. She said she heard about Project 2025 on podcasts she likes and calls it an effort at “dismantling government as we know it.”

The Biden campaign has found that Project 2025 content does especially well on social media. On Facebook — where mentions are tailored to an older audience with topics like Social Security — Project 2025 is in the campaign’s top 10 percent of topics in terms of impressions and engagement. On TikTok, users are more and more likely to find the campaign’s Project 2025 content organically rather than because they follow Biden’s account.

Outside groups opposed to Trump are deep into discussions about how they would try to stymie potential second-term policies laid out in Project 2025 and elsewhere. Democracy Forward — a legal group that is working with more than 150 like-minded organizations to prepare pushback to a Trump administration — has been analyzing Project 2025’s proposals and is already hunting for plaintiffs for lawsuits.

“It’s well beyond politics. It’s well beyond candidates. … We are really in a crisis for the heart of our country, for what it’s stood for,” Democracy Forward President Skye Perryman said.

Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic Party in battleground Wisconsin, argued that Trump’s first term provides only “clues” about what a second administration would look like because elements of the government refused to carry out so many of his ideas.

“In 2024, we can see that there’s actually an army of right-wing extremists ready to implement the most extreme versions of his plans,” Wikler said.





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