NEW YORK – Former President Donald Trump arrived in Washington with a hodgepodge of ideas developed over decades in business and television that were far outside the Republican mainstream.
After his party’s military invasions and embrace of multilateral trade deals that moved jobs overseas, Trump ran on an isolationist foreign policy platform, with a deep skepticism toward trade deals and immigration, a populist economic message, and an instinctive drive to exacerbate societal divides.
Now, allies have translated that often loosely defined philosophy into a 246-page policy plan released Thursday — the “America First Agenda” — that they hope will codify what has already become the party's dominant ideology and serve as blueprint for lawmakers at the state and federal level, whether or not Trump wins another term.
“How do we capture that set of ideas? And how do we create a movement that will last for the next 100 years?" said Brooke Rollins, president of America First Policy Institute, the group behind the effort. “This book, in a way, is really a culmination of the last bit of policy work we did in the White House and the policy work we did in the last 500 days to really build out the substance of what an America First policy looks like."
The plan focuses on 10 key areas, ranging from the economy to health care along with voting issues and government corruption. It calls for measures such as requiring a government-issued photo ID to vote, finishing construction of Trump's border wall, opening new federal land to drilling, and prioritizing “working with nations that contribute their fair share to our alliances," while expressing skepticism toward multilateral institutions.
It follows similar efforts by other Republicans including Trump's former vice president, Mike Pence, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and Florida Sen. Rick Scott, chair of the Senate Republicans' campaign committee, who all released their own policy books ahead of the midterm elections this year. (Scott's plan drew criticism after he initially called for all Americans to have to pay at least some federal income tax, which would have amounted to a tax hike on the country's lowest earners.)
The America First Policy Institute, which is headed by Rollins, Trump's former domestic policy chief, is often described as an “administration in waiting” should Trump be successful in his bid to win a second term. The group is made up of 20 former senior Trump White House officials, as well as eight former Cabinet members and dozens of others who worked in the administration, and has spent the two years since the former president left office building on the policy agenda Rollins and others had begun to map out in 2020 for Trump's second term.
“When term two didn't happen, really it was that policy agenda that drove a handful of us to think about: How does that policy continue? How do we continue to move it forward?" she said of the effort.
The group, which is registered as a non-profit, has no plans to ask current and future candidates to support its agenda. And they insist that it is meant to serve candidates well beyond Trump, who was not involved in the process, but has appeared at the group's events.
“There's no doubt, as the founder of the America First movement in 2015, that his ideas and his priorities are important to what we’re building out. But at the end of the day, we are a nonpartisan public policy institute," she said.
The release comes as Trump has spent recent months articulating the beginnings of his own second term agenda at rallies and in speeches. The former president has repeatedly called for the death penalty for drug dealers and human traffickers — declarations that earn him some of his loudest applause — and has vowed to pardon supporters who participated in the deadly storming of the Capitol on Jan 6, 2021.
During his speech last month in Florida launching his latest presidential run, Trump said he would push a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on members of Congress and pursue a lifetime ban on lobbing by former members and cabinet members — two ideas that were also part of his 2016 campaign platform, but that he never pursued while in office.
The AFPI plan does not include any of those proposals, but does suggest relocating federal agencies — including the FBI and IRS headquarters — from Washington to other, less expensive parts of the country. It proposes requiring members of Congress to report meetings with lobbyists and other advocacy groups, applying open records laws to members of Congress and their staff, and prohibiting members of Congress from owning or trading individual stocks.
It also calls for a dramatic reshaping of the federal workforce that would eliminate civil service protections and turn government workers into at-will employees who can be let go “for any non-discriminatory reason, with no external appeals,”
The group further presses for new federal restrictions on voting, including requiring that all ballots be returned to elections officials by the end of Election Day, eliminating drop boxes and requiring that voters sign affidavits for absentee ballot applications affirming they are incapable of voting on Election Day.
On foreign policy, the group says the country should “Give priority to nations that are willing to fight for themselves against common threats and have demonstrated a willingness to shoulder their share of the burden for providing for collective defense efforts." And to help with military recruitment, the group says the Department of Defense should “review and and revise” its definition of what constitutes domestic “ extremism."
“We don’t have a mechanism for defining people’s personal views,” said Jacob Olidort, director of the group's Center for American Security. “Not having a definition of what you are trying to screen out may have a chilling effect.”