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Trump OMB chief launching new MAGA think tank

"What the America First movement needs is the institutionalization of these ideas," said Russ Vought, explaining the rationale for the Center for American Restoration.

Updated: February 2, 2021 - 10:08pm

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President Trump's departure from the White House has left many conservative activists pondering what's next for the MAGA movement.

The answer is easy for the so-called D.C. "establishment," which hopes to leave Trump behind and return to "business as usual," according to Russ Vought, who served as Trump's Office of Management and Budget director.

Business as usual means "powerful interests have an outsized voice in setting the agenda, where policy objectives are routinely sterilized of all perceived political risk, and where elites keep their base of voters in the dark," Vought wrote in The Federalist

Vought has a different answer. He is launching the Center for American Restoration, a new think tank that aims to provide the intellectual firepower to propel the next phase of Trump's populist movement.

The center's mission is to "maintain our gains over the last four years" and "put up as much of an opposition against the Biden administration as we possibly can," Vought told "Just the News AM" television program.

"What the America First movement needs is the institutionalization of these ideas," Vought said. "And so, we're happy to play our part in that."

The Center for American Restoration will be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, researching issues like immigration reform, pro-life policies, pushing back against China, voter fraud, and Big Tech and social media censorship.

A sister organization, America Restoration Action, will be organized as a 501(c)(4) "social welfare" group, which allows for direct advocacy of policies and does not require disclosure of the names of donors to the IRS when filing annual Form 990 returns.

Vought's announcement snagged an endorsement from his former boss.

"Russell Vought did a fabulous job in my administration, and I have no doubt he will do a great job in continuing our quest to make America great again," Trump said in a launch announcement released by the organization.  

Vought has already brought on board Rachel Semmel, who ran communications for Trump's OMB, and Ashlea Frazier, Vought's former chief of staff.

Center-right think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution generally shy away from the social and cultural hot button issues that Vought's group will confront head-on, including abortion, drug legalization and the impact of pornography in communities.

Given the Center for American Restoration's social conservatism, its most likely competitor is the Heritage Foundation, which last week announced it has hired several former Trump administration senior officials, including Chad Wolf, former acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Ken Cuccinelli, former deputy DHS secretary, and Mark Morgan, who was acting commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

In an interview with Fox Business Network's Lou Dobbs, Vought said the Center for American Restoration does not plan to take corporate funding, which would alleviate concerns that the the upstart might compete with Heritage as a fundraising rival targeting the same donor base.

A spokesman for the Heritage Foundation had no comment about the fundraising issue, but he did point Just the News to public comments via Twitter from Heritage Foundation President Kay Coles James and Jessica Anderson, executive director of Heritage Action.

"Congrats to @russvought and the Center for American Restoration team on this exciting news!" James wrote. "We're so proud of Russ for his leadership of OMB. He'll always be part of the @Heritage family and we look forward to working with @amrestorecenter."

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"Congrats to .@russvought on his exciting next step! Go get em!" Anderson wrote.

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Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, praised Vought's effort to build an intellectual framework around Trump's instinctive populism.

"Help is on the way," Olsen wrote of Vought in a Washington Post column praising the effort, writing: "Donald Trump entered his presidency with a clear set of instincts, but little in the way of detailed policy proposals. That cannot continue if the conservative-populist alliance that many on the right envision is to grow and flourish."

Olsen said he thinks that "establishment" conservatives "have neglected the questions of culture and religion that are so important to a modern center-right," a fact that Vought seeks to counter by explicitly stating that his group's fight is "For God, For Country, and For Community."

Vought rejects the "establishment" that has "effectively accepted the terms the left has set to govern the public square," he explained in the Federalist. "God is excluded, and faith has become a predominantly private matter. It is no longer acceptable for conservatives to argue as citizens or elected officials from a Judeo-Christian worldview."

"What is really needed is to set the fight and to frame the debates in the moment based on where the country's needs are," Vought told "Just the News AM."

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