Former President Trump's allies are pre-screening the ideologies of thousands of potential foot soldiers, as part of an unprecedented operation to centralize and expand his power at every level of the U.S. government if he wins in 2024, officials involved in the effort tell Axios.
Why it matters: Hundreds of people are spending tens of millions of dollars to install a pre-vetted, pro-Trump army of up to 54,000 loyalists across government to rip off the restraints imposed on the previous 46 presidents.
The screening for ready-to-serve loyalists has already begun, driven in part by artificial intelligence from tech giant Oracle, contracted for the project.
Social media histories are already being plumbed.
What's happening: When Trump took office in 2017, he included many conventional Republicans in his Cabinet and key positions. Those officials often curtailed his behavior and power.
Trump himself spends little time plotting governing plans. But he is well aware of a highly coordinated campaign to be ready to jam government offices with loyalists willing to stretch traditional boundaries.
If Trump were to win, thousands of Trump-first loyalists would be ready for legal, judicial, defense, regulatory and domestic policy jobs. His inner circle plans to purge anyone viewed as hostile to the hard-edged, authoritarian-sounding plans he calls "Agenda 47."
The people leading these efforts aren't figures like Rudy Giuliani. They're smart, experienced people, many with very unconventional and elastic views of presidential power and traditional rule of law.
Behind the scenes: The government-in-waiting is being orchestrated by the Heritage Foundation's well-funded Project 2025, which already has published a 920-page policy book from 400+ contributors. Think of it as a transition team set in motion years in advance.
Heritage president Kevin Roberts tells us his apparatus is "orders of magnitude" bigger than anything ever assembled for a party out of power.
The policy series, "Mandate for Leadership," dates back to the 1980s. But Paul Dans, director of Project 2025, told us: "Never before has the entire movement ... banded together to construct a comprehensive plan to deconstruct the out-of-touch and weaponized administrative state."
Project 2025 gets muscle from 80 partners, including Turning Point USA, led by MAGA star Charlie Kirk; the Center for Renewing America, headed by former Trump budget director Russ Vought; and American Moment, focused on young believers for junior positions.
A separate group of former Trump officials — the America First Policy Institute, led by Brooke Rollins — has a Pathway to 2025 laying groundwork for what it calls "the next America First administration."
Trump insiders relish rebuilding the team with purists. But the truth is, they have no choice: Many more-traditional Republicans quit the first administration in frustration or were fired by tweet. And some former advisers are talking to prosecutors or are charged with crimes.
The Trump campaign tells us no outside group speaks for him: "The campaign's Agenda47 is the only official comprehensive and detailed look at what President Trump will do when he returns to the White House. ... While the campaign is appreciative of any effort to provide suggestions about a second term, the campaign is not collaborating with them."
Questions for Heritage Foundation's Project 2025 applicants. Screenshot via Project 2025 website
How it works: The most elaborate part of the pre-transition machine is a résumé-collection project that drills down more on political philosophy than on experience, education or other credentials.
Applicants are asked to "name one person, past or present, who has most influenced the development of your political philosophy" — and to do the same with a book.
Another query: "Name one living public policy figure whom you greatly admire and why."
Details: Heritage's "Presidential Personnel Database" already has 4,000+ entries, we're told.
We're told immense, intense attention will be given to the social-media histories of anyone being considered for top jobs. Those queasy about testing the limits of Trump's power will get flagged and rejected.
The massive headhunting quest aims to recruit 20,000 people to serve in the next administration, as a down payment on 4,000 presidential appointments + potential replacements for as many as 50,000 federal workers who are "policy-adjacent," as Trumpers put it.
Reality check: Technically, this apparatus will be inherited by any Republican nominee — Heritage officials tell us they've briefed the campaigns of Trump, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley.
But this is undeniably a Trump-driven operation. The biggest tell: Johnny McEntee — one of Trump's closest White House aides, and his most fervent internal loyalty enforcer — is a senior adviser to Project 2025.
One of the most powerful architects is Stephen Miller, a top West Wing adviser for the Trump administration. Miller is charting an even harder line on legal and immigration policy than last time. While he maps a White House return, he's president of America First Legal, which vows to fight "lawless executive actions and the Radical Left."
Between the lines: Trump doesn't hide his intentions. It's important to tune out the theatrical language that drives social media and cable TV, and focus intently on the directional guidance of his second term.
He's telling us exactly what he intends to do — like it or loathe it. And this time, he'll have prefabbed institutional muscle to turn pugilistic words into policies and action from the get-go.