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The America First Policy Institute (AFPI) is working to take over the GOP to ensure it remains a populist party in the mold of former President Trump — regardless of which Republican occupies the White House next.
The AFPI mission was evident during a two-day conference it hosted this week in Washington, D.C. The event, which drew GOP luminaries from Capitol Hill and far-flung state capitals, was billed as a forum to showcase its platform ahead of the midterms and 2024.
“We will be laying the ground for the return of the America First agenda,” Brooke Rollins, the organization’s president, said. “With the hope that America First leaders [will be] returning to the White House, Congress and to the state houses.”
While much of the conference centered around the present, the next presidential election was never far from mind. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich kicked off the confab by saying AFPI, “will do in the next few years what the Heritage Foundation did” for President Reagan by influencing the direction of the government.
Although Trump was the keynote speaker, AFPI’s brass stressed repeatedly that they were laying the groundwork for any future Republican president.
“If President Trump decides to run, I think, he’ll clear the field,” former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said. “But if he doesn’t decide to run, I guarantee you the dozens of men and women who do run for president, and indeed the Republican nominee and winner of the 2024 election, will be someone who is proudly and loudly carrying the mantle of the America First policy agenda.”
Much of the conference focused on the group’s efforts to define what “America First” means when it comes to policy and ideology. Although Trump popularized the term during his 2016 presidential run, Republicans are still working to define it.
That reality allowed a large contingent of Republicans to embrace the slogan without having to expressly commit to a set of policies. Trump allies say the situation created tension between the former president and Congress and ultimately stymied parts of the administration’s agenda.
“I think this conference … is helping to shape where we think we want to go, but kind of respectfully, to all the think tanks in town,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said. “All the ideas of the world are utterly worthless if you don’t have people in Congress who are willing to stand up and fight.”
Some of AFPI’s leadership, many of whom served in the Trump administration, say they understand the problem. That is partially the reason why the organization is working to sketch out an America First agenda and identify sufficiently committed individuals to staff the next Republican White House, they say.
Advocates say a policy agenda is not only an opportunity to define what America First means for the average voter, but it is also a platform candidates can adopt. By doing so, they would be committed to helping enact at least a portion of it when elected.
The strategy hopes to ensure that if Trump — or whoever the GOP nominates in 2024 — wins the next election, that person will face less resistance to enacting legislation and regulations.
In laying the groundwork for the next GOP president, AFPI says its mission is guided by two simple principles: what is beneficial for Americans and, more pragmatically, what can actually be accomplished.
“As we build these policies, what’s first and foremost is making sure that we put America First in our policy and our decision-making but also making sure that we are actually advocating for policies that can be effective, that can be implemented,” said Chad Wolf, who served as the acting secretary of Homeland Security under Trump.
Not everyone was on board with AFPI’s maneuvering to create an America First Agenda. Peter Navarro, who served as a trade policy adviser to Trump, launched an attack on the organization in an op-ed published the day the former president was slated to speak.
“Yes, it is important for President Trump to have a well-credentialed stable of policy experts capable of both building a 2024 platform and finding solid MAGA talent to populate a new Trump Administration,” Navarro wrote on the conservative website American Greatness. “But the AFPI Trojan Horse — whose leadership is now bragging about how it will staff Trump’s ‘shadow cabinet ’— is decidedly not that.”
Some AFPI’s brass was quick to downplay the infighting amongst former Trump staffers, noting that the former president has opted to attend the conference.
“Obviously, President Trump disagrees with that,” said Conway. “He’s here.”