From Project 2025 to Christian nationalists, these groups could define Trump’s second term

As president, Trump delivered for anti-abortion voters in the biggest way possible by appointing the three Supreme Court justices who cast the deciding votes to overturn Roe v. Wade.

This year, however, the man who once proudly proclaimed himself “the most pro-life president in American history” has been wishy-washy on the subject as he campaigns, no doubt aware that pro-abortion-rights candidates and measures have been consistently winning since Roe fell.

In March, Trump voiced his potential support for a 15-week federal ban on the procedure. But on Monday, he said in a video statement that the issue should be left up to the states. “Whatever they decide must be the law of the land, and in this case, the law of the state,” he added. The statement, in which Trump also expressed support for IVF, appeared to be Trump’s way of reassuring moderate voters that he would not seek sweeping federal legislation restricting abortion rights.

Part of Trump’s success in the polls thus far appears to stem from his ability to capture independent voters who are dissatisfied with the economy and angry about immigration, but who may not identify as religious or even as conservative. It’s plausible that Trump might let abortion politics — and issues of reproductive and family policy more generally — fade into the background in a second term. After all, it’s “not something he instinctively cares a lot about,” said Matthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University.

However, there are powerful groups within Trump’s coalition — both his base of supporters and his stable of former and current advisers — who do care a lot about abortion. And contraception. And gender identity. And marriage.

Trump’s message to these groups, cloaked in religious language, is much different from the one he’s delivering to moderates. And they’re likely to have an outsize influence on policy in a second Trump term, in part because Trump has few social policy positions of his own.

Understanding those actors is key to predicting how he and his surrogates might govern in 2025, if they get the chance.

The Heritage Foundation and other conservative think tanks

The Biden campaign in recent weeks has directed a lot of attention toward Project 2025, a kind of super-team of conservative think tanks and interest groups tasked with creating a playbook for “the next conservative administration.”

Led by the Heritage Foundation, the project includes on its advisory board both old-line anti-abortion groups like Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America (once Susan B. Anthony List) and groups like the Claremont Institute, which rose to prominence during Trump’s presidency. The playbook itself, titled Mandate for Leadership: The Conservative Promise, is more than 800 pages long and includes chapters on how the next conservative president (Trump is not mentioned by name) should overhaul the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services (HHS). Some of its prescriptions:

  • Rescinding FDA approval of mifepristone, one of the drugs used in medication abortion (something a Trump-appointed HHS secretary could do without approval from FDA scientists, Mary Ziegler, a law professor at UC Davis and author of the book Abortion and the Law in America: Roe v. Wade to the Present, has written).
  • Prosecuting people who send abortion pills by mail using the Comstock Act, a little-known 1873 law banning the mailing of “obscene, lewd, lascivious, indecent, filthy or vile” materials. (This would cut off one of the only pathways for getting an abortion in red states.)
  • Promoting a “family agenda” that states that “men and women are biological realities” and “married men and women are the ideal, natural family structure.” The document also recommends that HHS “install a pro-life task force” and “return to being known as the Department of Life,” a nickname introduced under Trump.

The Trump campaign has not acknowledged Mandate for Leadership as any kind of playbook. “All 2024 campaign policy announcements will be made by President Trump or members of his campaign team,” campaign officials said in a November statement. “Policy recommendations from external allies are just that — recommendations.”

“Project 2025 does not speak for President Trump or his campaign,” a spokesperson for the project told Vox in an email.

Nonetheless, many of the authors of Mandate are members of the first Trump administration who would likely have roles in a second.

Roger Severino, the author of the HHS chapter, was the director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights under Trump, a role in which he oversaw the removal of nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans in health care settings. Gene Hamilton, the author of the Justice Department chapter, served in Trump’s DOJ and Department of Homeland Security and worked on the “zero tolerance” immigration policy that separated children from their parents at the border.

“These are all people that, in theory, Trump listens to,” Ziegler told Vox.

When it came to abortion policy in Trump’s first term, “he delegated,” Ziegler added. Odds are he would do so again, and Project 2025 gives some clues about how and to whom.

Trump’s first presidential campaign “did not have a blueprint” for governing because “they did not believe they could win,” said Mini Timmaraju, president of Reproductive Freedom for All (formerly NARAL Pro-Choice America). Trump was still able to stack the court system to wipe out the federal right to an abortion and “completely gut and in some ways remake federal agencies.”

“That was with no prep,” Timmaraju said. “I take these guys incredibly seriously.”

Anti-woke influencers

While some in the Republican coalition work on plans to ban abortion pills, others are continuing the battle against what they’ve branded as liberal “woke” culture, including protections for LGBTQ Americans and efforts toward diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

This group includes a newer, more unpredictable part of the conservative ecosystem: the podcasters and influencers who could turn out votes for Trump in 2024, from Joe Rogan to the Nelk Boys. These voices speak directly to young men who might not go to church or think that much about abortion policy, but who can maybe be persuaded that Democrats are waging a war on men and that Donald Trump can stop them.

This constituency is dear to Trump’s heart — he and Donald Trump Jr. have both appeared on the Nelk Boys’ podcast, and he has anointed Nick Adams, an over-the-top Australian influencer who calls himself “the Godfather of the ‘Alpha King’ movement,” by writing the foreword for his book.

“It really is hard to overstate how key opposing ‘wokeness’ is to the right,” Joshua Tait, a researcher who studies conservatism and conservative thought, told Vox in an email. “If you look at the data related to the growing gender divide in political polarization, these sort of influencers (who are a cause, but also very much a symptom) will have a long-term impact on the political landscape.”

There’s also plenty of overlap, ideologically, between think tanks and anti-woke influencers. Anti-trans rhetoric and policy recommendations crop up throughout Mandate for Leadership, whose foreword proclaims that “children suffer the toxic normalization of transgenderism with drag queens and pornography invading their school libraries.” The document also calls for deleting the terms diversity, equity, and inclusion from every federal rule as part of a drive to “make the institutions of American civil society hard targets for woke culture warriors.”

Meanwhile, conservative activists see an opening around “woke” culture issues, especially since other right-wing social positions, like opposition to abortion, are politically unpopular. They’re looking at polls showing that majorities of Americans support restrictions on gender-affirming medical treatments for minors and trans women participating in women’s sports, Wilson said (though a majority also support prohibitions on discrimination against trans people).

While Trump doesn’t actually care much about religion, he does love stoking culture wars, so his personal interests are perhaps more aligned with the anti-woke crusaders than with old-line evangelical abortion opponents. All this suggests that trans rights and DEI could remain fixations for him and his party in a second term.

Christian nationalists

A third group that’s influential for Trump on social issues is the Christian nationalist movement, whose adherents believe “the U.S. is a Christian nation and that the country’s laws should therefore be rooted in Christian values,” according to NPR. More than half of Republicans supported these views in a 2023 PRRI/Brookings survey, and the ideology counts among its adherents Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who has said, “I am a Christian and I say it proudly: We should be Christian nationalists.”

The idea that American laws should be rooted in Christianity isn’t new on the right, but some observers are concerned about the extent to which Christian nationalists today prioritize their worldview over democracy. The Society for American Civic Renewal (SACR), for example, a group open only to straight Christian men who hold supportive views of Trump, has discussed an “aligned future regime” stocked with loyalists, Josh Kovensky writes for Talking Points Memo.

SACR’s founder, Charles Haywood, has speculated openly about his role in a potential civil war, writing that he might serve as a “warlord” in “conditions where central authority has broken down,” such as “more-or-less open warfare with the federal government, or some subset or remnant of it.”

Abortion comes up frequently as a touchstone for Christian nationalist groups, said Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a professor of history and gender studies at Calvin University who studies religion and politics. “I have seen that issue surface in explicitly Christian nationalist spaces as a reason to jettison democracy,” Du Mez told Vox.

Christian nationalists were heavily involved in the January 6 Capitol riot, experts say, with four of six protest permits issued that day going to groups with links to the movement. Adherents remain some of Trump’s most committed supporters, said Laura Field, a political theorist and scholar in residence at American University. “Some of them talk about him as a new Cyrus” — a Persian king referenced in the Old Testament who did not worship the Jewish God but nonetheless carried out God’s plans, Field said.

Trump speaks directly to such supporters in prayer-style closings of recent campaign speeches, promising, “we are one movement, one people, one family and one glorious nation under God.” He has also leaned into the legacy of January 6, calling the date of the insurrection a “beautiful day” and playing a song at rallies sung by incarcerated participants, whom he calls “J6 hostages.”

While it’s unclear how much of the vision (or visions) held by Christian nationalists could realistically come to pass in a second Trump administration, it is clear that these groups now represent, to a great degree, Trump’s base, one he’s been courting zealously on what he hopes is his second journey to the White House.

There’s a lot of overlap between the think-tank world, anti-woke influencers, and Christian nationalists. Ryan P. Williams, president of the Claremont Institute, is also a board member of SACR. And the male supremacist ethos of the anti-woke podcasters fits right in with the tenets of Christian nationalists, who often see men as the rightful heads of both household and state.

But perhaps the biggest area of overlap lies in approach. Post-Dobbs, anti-abortion forces have undergone a reinvention, becoming “a movement less focused on winning over the public and more focused on exercising power through the executive and the courts,” Ziegler said.

That determination to push through unpopular policies through consolidation of power runs through Mandate for Leadership and through the ideas of Christian nationalist groups as well.

It’s a reminder that while Trump does need to pay attention to public opinion during his campaign — hence his (sometimes) careful language around issues like abortion — a big part of his appeal as a candidate and the leader of a movement is his perceived ability to flout public opinion and do whatever he and his most loyal supporters want.

Update, April 8, 2024, 10:50 am ET: This story, originally published April 8, has been updated to include Donald Trump’s video statement on abortion law.

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