Trump aides build out the MAGA-verse with new groupsMarch 3, 2021
Brooke Rollins spent nearly three years in Donald Trump’s White House, part of it as the former president’s chief domestic policy adviser.
Now she’s trying on a new role: Helping to oversee a Trump-aligned nonprofit devoted to pushing the former president’s agenda while he’s out of office.
Rollins has moved aggressively since Trump left the White House, with her soon-to-be-launched organization — America First Policy Institute — taking up office space in Arlington, Va., hiring about 30 staffers so far, and, according to Rollins, raising millions of dollars.
Rollins is joining an increasingly long list of former White House officials who’ve set up Trump-allied political groups since the 2020 election, a roster that includes prominent figures in the former president’s orbit like ex-Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. With Trump out of office and plotting his political future, the emerging ecosystem promises to bolster the former president as he prepares to dive into the 2022 midterm elections — and potentially launch a 2024 comeback bid.
The former aides are capitalizing on widespread donor interest in funding projects aligned with the former president, with pro-Trump givers ready to shell out big checks in order to keep the Trump agenda front and center. Now that the presidential campaign is no longer consuming donors, who can give unlimited amounts to nonprofits or super PACs, a space has emerged for former Trump advisers to finance their own endeavors.
“I think the investors that are out there,” Rollins said, are “really, really excited” about the idea of a vehicle that advocates for Trump’s policies. “For the people that are funding us,” she added, “they get it, they see the vision, they understand what’s at stake.”
Parscale’s new vehicle, the American Greatness Fund, is not explicitly pro-Trump, but its core themes are unmistakably aligned with the former president. The group’s mission statement describes it as a “nonprofit social welfare organization devoted to retaining, cultivating, and inspiring the grassroots energy of the ‘Make America Great Again’” movement. The organization, it adds, will focus on voter integrity issues by creating a website that will catalog legal and legislative efforts surrounding elections and combat what it describes as “cancel culture against conservatives.”
Parscale was fired as Trump’s campaign manager in July 2020, but he has since made a return to the former president’s orbit and is helping to run his post-White House political efforts. Parscale said the American Greatness Fund, the existence of which was first reported by Axios, has so far raised $300,000.
Corey Lewandowski, another former Trump campaign manager, has created Fight Back Now America, a political action committee that according to its website is devoted to “supporting candidates and policies that seek to advance the America First Agenda.”
The organization is expected to be heavily involved in 2022 Republican primaries by targeting those who backed Trump’s impeachment such as Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, though it will also be focused on ousting Democrats in the general election. Lewandowski has separately been tapped to oversee the principal pro-Trump super PAC, though its unclear how that outfit will interface with Fight Back Now America.
Carson said in an interview that his American Cornerstone Institute is a conservative think tank that will emphasize election integrity, one of the ex-president’s fixations. Carson has also set up a PAC, Think BIG America, which can engage in elections and dish out funds to favored candidates.
“We’ll be very interested,” Carson said, “in who are the people who are advocating visions that are logical and that make sense.”
Russ Vought, who was Trump’s Office of Management and Budget director, has set up Center for American Restoration, a think tank that espouses Trump’s fiery populist message. Vought blasted the political establishment in a recent piece published on The Federalist, a conservative website, and said his organization aimed “to give voice to the common, forgotten men and women across this great country.”
Vought, a veteran of Heritage Action, a prominent conservative advocacy group, has among other issues zeroed in on conservative censorship on online platforms, a cause that Trump has taken up after being banned by Twitter.
Whether Trump assists any of the organizations remains unclear. The former president has been focused on establishing his own political apparatus, and during a meeting last week with top advisers he signaled that he wanted to establish a Lewandowski-run super PAC, which would be able to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.
Trump previously set up a leadership PAC, Save America, which could contribute directly to candidates but has restrictions on the amounts individual donors can contribute. During an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference over the weekend, he urged supporters to donate to Save America, which has already banked tens of millions of dollars.
Republicans have expressed interest in building out a constellation of new conservative nonprofit groups, believing that Democrats have established a critical advantage in that space in recent years. While nonprofits are limited in some ways in their ability to spend money on elections, they can raise unrestricted amounts of money and spend vast sums to influence voters. Unlike super PACs, they don’t have to disclose their donors.
Republicans point to Fair Fight, a collection of political and nonprofit organizations overseen by Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams devoted to voting rights, as a vehicle that has been particularly effective. Abrams has been credited with helping Democrats make gains in Georgia during the election, when President Joe Biden carried the state and the party seized both of its Senate seats.
Rollins said she has drawn staffers from the White House, the Trump campaign and Capitol Hill. She added that the outfit, which is also spearheaded by former Trump adviser Larry Kudlow, will focus on an array of policy issues that were central to the Trump White House, including school choice, energy independence and immigration reform.
We’re “taking all those ideas that we built out over the last four years and leaning into them,” said Rollins, who prior to joining the White House oversaw the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Austin.
The glut of Trump-aligned organizations could create complications. Some senior Republicans have expressed concern that there may be competition over donors, who may be confused about which outfit to support. They say major contributors are waiting for the former president’s political apparatus to fully form and are waiting for guidance from him on where they should direct their funds.
Carson dismissed the idea that there would be clashing between the different groups and noted that his organization had been in touch with Vought’s. The two organizations are headquartered in close proximity to one another on Capitol Hill.
“The way I look at it, we’re fighting for the same things,” Carson said. “We need as many people in that fight as we can get.”