Dec 1, 2023 - Politics & Policy
Column / Behind the Curtain

Behind the Curtain — Scoop: The Trump job applications revealed

Illustration of a curtain with a tassel in the shape of the Axios logo

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

We told you in a "Behind the Curtain" column last month that Trump allies are pre-screening the ideologies of thousands of potential appointees and employees in case he wins back the White House. Now we have copies of the exact questionnaires Trump allies are using and that then-President Trump used himself during his final days in office.

Why it matters: These future Trumpers would staff an unprecedented effort to centralize and expand presidential power at every level of the administration.

  • Trump insiders are planning a far more targeted and sophisticated sequel to his haphazard first term, when internal feuding deterred policy wins or permanent changes to government.
  • The 2020 questionnaire — paired with the application the Heritage Foundation is currently collecting from job prospects for a future administration — points to a top-down government-in-waiting that would be driven more by ideology than by policy expertise or innovation.
  • Trump, the overwhelming favorite for the Republican nomination, is being explicit about his plans for retribution and disruption if he wins the 2024 election. So how he would staff his government is of immense consequence.

Driving the news: The 2020 "Research Questionnaire," which we obtained from a Trump administration alumnus, was used in the administration's final days — when most moderates and establishment figures had been fired or quit, and loyalists were flexing their muscles. Questions include:

  • "What part of Candidate Trump's campaign message most appealed to you and why?"
  • "Briefly describe your political evolution. What thinkers, authors, books, or political leaders influenced you and led you to your current beliefs? What political commentator, thinker or politician best reflects your views?"
  • "Have you ever appeared in the media to comment on Candidate Trump, President Trump or other personnel or policies of the Trump Administration?"

The big picture: Similar questions are being asked for the Talent Database being assembled by the Heritage Foundation's Project 2025 — the most sophisticated, expensive pre-transition planning ever undertaken for either party:

  • "Name one person, past or present, who has most influenced the development of your political philosophy."
  • "Name a book that has most significantly shaped your political philosophy, and please explain its influence on your thinking."
  • "Name one living public policy figure whom you greatly admire and why."

Between the lines: An alumnus of the Trump White House told us both documents are designed to test the sincerity of someone's MAGA credentials and determine "when you got red-pilled," or became a true believer.

  • "They want to see that you're listening to Tucker, and not pointing to the Reagan revolution or any George W. Bush stuff," this person said.

See for yourself: As an exclusive for Axios readers, at the bottom of this story you can read both the Trump questionnaire and 2025 application in full.

Both documents are striking for their emphasis on what you believe rather than your credentials or accomplishments.

  • They reflect a vision for a centralized administration where people throughout the administration would pick up the phone and say: "Yes, sir."

Details: The Heritage Foundation told us Project 2025 officials have collected more than 5,000 applications — months before a Republican nominee is locked in.

  • Heritage president Kevin Roberts said recently that Project 2025's mission is to get the next conservative president "ready to govern in the most aggressive, ambitious, audacious way to destroy the Deep State and devolve power back to the individual Americans."

The groundwork by Heritage, which is nonpartisan in its tax designation, is technically available to any future conservative nominee. We're told Project 2025 officials have briefed the Republican campaigns of Trump, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Halley and Vivek Ramaswamy — and even the independent campaign of Robert Kennedy Jr.

  • But the presence of Johnny McEntee, former director of Trump's White House Presidential Personnel Office, as a senior adviser to Project 2025 reflects the Trump-centric planning.

Behind the scenes: We hear Trump has been irritated by all the attention Heritage and other outside allies have gotten for the prefab administration that's being assembled.

  • The Trump campaign's top two officials, Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita, issued a statement in mid-November saying that "none of these groups or individuals speak for President Trump or his campaign. We will have an official transition effort to be announced at a later date."
  • "Unless a second term priority is articulated by President Trump himself, or is officially communicated by the campaign," they added, "it is not authorized in any way."

Go deeper: Trump allies pre-screen loyalists for unprecedented power grab

  • "Behind the Curtain" is a column by Axios CEO Jim VandeHei and co-founder Mike Allen, based on regular conversations with White House and congressional leaders, CEOs and top technologists.
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