The biggest surprise Donald Trump has provided as president-elect is just how conservative a cabinet he is putting together. “This is a more conservative cabinet than Reagan assembled in 1980,” says Ed Feulner, a key Trump transition adviser. As president of the Heritage Foundation at the time, Feulner provided guidance for Reagan’s choices.The reasons Fund offers for this read like rabble-rousing right-wing propaganda:
The conservative cast of the nominees thus far is somewhat unexpected, given Trump’s well-known reputation as a non-ideological thinker who has often backed big-government solutions....
1. During the campaign, Trump learned a lot about the country and how its economic vitality had been sapped and its foreign-policy standing eroded during the Obama years. “He now recognizes that the problems confronting the nation require bold reforms, and delaying the treatment will only sap his political capital,” former education secretary Bill Bennett says.Enemies are everywhere! Boldness is required! Trump's message: Damn the torpedoes!
2. The refusal of previous GOP presidential nominees George H. W. Bush, John McCain, and George W. Bush to back Trump in the general election has liberated Trump from obligations; he owes very little to them or their followers...
3. The viciousness with which left-wing allies of Hillary Clinton and their media enablers attacked Trump persuaded the New York billionaire that there was no making peace with his adversaries.
The truth is probably a bit more prosaic. Trump is a lazy, needy man who has no deeply held ideas of his own (although he has become exremely enamored of Fox News wingnuttery in his later years), so it's quite possible he just outsourced his entire transition to groups like the Heritage Foundation. Ed Kilgore wrote this last month:
... Heritage Foundation president and former U.S. senator Jim DeMint ... [has] turned the venerable right-wing think tank into a powerful force for immoderation via its Heritage Action arm, which vigorously promoted conservative brinkmanship in Congress and around the country.Letting these guys decide on the ideological specifics kept most of the GOP in the fold -- and made life infinitely easier for Trump, who didn't have to any of that tedious thinking. The notion that he's a hero in an Ayn Rand potboiler who chose FREEDOM!!! after breaking the chains that might have otherwise bound him to the hidebound establishment is stirring, if you're a National Review sort of person. But the truth is that Trump probably just wanted to spend more time tweeting and watching TV.
... Heritage’s fingerprints are all over the Trump transition operation, per Politico:
[T]he transition is getting an assist from Heritage Foundation officials including Becky Norton Dunlop, a distinguished fellow at the foundation; former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese, a distinguished fellow emeritus at Heritage; Heritage national security expert James Carafano; and Ed Feulner, who helped found Heritage. Rebekah Mercer, a Heritage board member and major pro-Trump donor, is on the transition team’s 16-member executive committee, and a transition team source said she is working with Heritage to recruit appointees for positions at the undersecretary level and below….Heritage’s chummy relationship with Team Trump appears to have been initially brokered by DeMint himself, who met with the mogul soon after his nomination became likely. Even more significant, Heritage worked with the Federalist Society to put together Trump’s list of pre-vetted Supreme Court possibilities, perhaps the single most important step Trump took to keep serious conservatives in his camp.
The transition team also includes other prominent activists and thinkers with close ties to Heritage, such as former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the activist involved with several conservative groups who is running Trump’s domestic transition team. He has written for Heritage and has personal relationships with many at the organization.