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The Bull Moose Project: Taking the Gospel of Trumpism to America’s Youth
An interview with policy analyst Jason Hart about this new organization with white nationalist roots that is spreading the populist message to the next generation
MAGA populism continues to colonize and hollow out American conservatism into a vulgar shell of its former self. Fortunately, not all traditional conservatives are taking this ideological and social decay lying down. Some are taking concrete steps to document and call out these developments, especially when they veer into the far right and start sympathizing with its unrepentant xenophobia.
Jason Hart is a free-market health and labor policy analyst and software engineer with a long career in conservative policy spaces, working for institutions such as the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, among others. A committed Reaganite conservative and devout Christian, Hart has been disturbed by the shift in the Republican Party and conservative movement towards Trumpist populism, particularly among young people. He sees this shift as extremely troubling and damaging to the conservative and Christian principles he has dedicated much of his career to defending.
As a result, Hart has been doggedly documenting the progress of MAGA populism, particularly in the form of an outfit called the Bull Moose Project (BMP), an organization devoted to promoting “Trumpism after Trump” by recruiting the American youth. It is a small organization but has made waves in influential conservative circles.
Hart, more than anyone else, understands the BMP and its activities, particularly its unsavory connections with white nationalism and its worrying influence on major conservative institutions, leadership, and decision makers—and even an unsuspecting mainstream media. The Federalist, a conservative publication that went from being an apostle of Reaganism to MAGAism in a few short years after Donald Trump’s arrival, has described BMP as a “young organization run by younger adults [that] punches significantly above its weight.” It praised BMP for attempting to train the “next generation of American statesmen while further building out the burgeoning conservative populist movement.”
We interviewed Hart to tell us more about this outfit’s mission and modus operandi —and map the inroads it’s making in a growing MAGA ecosystem of populist and nationalist organizations that oppose both a healthier form of American conservatism and the country’s proud liberal democratic traditions.
The UnPopulist: What is the Bull Moose Project (BMP), what does it stand for and why should the readers of The UnPopulist be concerned about it?
Jason Hart: The Bull Moose Project, a nonprofit named in honor of former Republican president and 1912 Progressive Party presidential nominee Theodore Roosevelt, launched two years ago with the express goal of bringing about a “populist takeover” of the Republican Party. Bull Moose Project sees Donald Trump as both the catalyst and champion for this takeover. It wants to follow Trump’s lead by pairing standard right-wing stances on abortion and other social issues—couched in terms of Christian or more generic “traditional” values—with typically left-wing views on antitrust, labor unions, industrial policy, and the welfare state. The UnPopulist readers should be concerned about the Bull Moose Project because, despite (or perhaps due to) its leaders’ affinity for white identity politics and disdain for immigrants, libertarians, and foreign policy hawks, the group has been supported by two of America’s most powerful right-of-center think tanks. The Heritage Foundation sponsored a Bull Moose Project event this spring, and the Trump-aligned Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), which was founded in 2017 by former Heritage president Jim DeMint, has provided it office space for multiple events. Support from these well-known, well-funded organizations has helped Bull Moose Project sell itself as a serious “conservative-leaning” group to the national press and even members of Congress. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) has quoted Bull Moose Project in two press releases, and this summer Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) called Bull Moose Project a “trusted group” that should be included in a national artificial intelligence commission.
“Despite (or perhaps due to) its leaders’ affinity for white identity politics and disdain for immigrants, libertarians, and foreign policy hawks, the group has been supported by two of America’s most powerful right-of-center think tanks.”
The UnPopulist: One of BMP’s goals, as you’ve noted, is to spread “Trump’s grandiose, grievance-driven MAGA populism” among young people. How successful has it been in achieving this end, and what kind of young people are attracted to its message?
Jason Hart: Bull Moose Project gained a following by appealing to fans of the Holocaust-denying, white supremacist Nick Fuentes who engages in anti-immigrant, anti-minority, antisemitic rhetoric. The group has reached out to these people with enough subtlety so as to draw glowing praise from pro-Trump columnists at right-wing outlets. This strategy is demonstrated most clearly by Bull Moose Project subsidiary American Virtue. Before merging with Bull Moose Project in 2022, American Virtue was known as American Populist Union—a group of Generation Z activists whose extensive ties to Fuentes and other white supremacists got enough media attention to torpedo its hopes of political relevance. After the merger, American Virtue continued publishing comments like a March 2023 Twitter post that read, “Immigrants do not assimilate to our country. It’s time to close our borders and stop our cultural suicide.” A few months earlier, another American Virtue tweet called for Daniel DiMartino—a conservative Manhattan Institute fellow who immigrated to America from Venezuela—to be deported.
Perversely, spats with Fuentes (who is notoriously vicious toward competitors for his audience, especially if those competitors appear more successful than Fuentes at coating his ideas in a veneer of respectability) have hurt Bull Moose Project’s credibility with disaffected white teenage boys but have helped Bull Moose Project shrug off the “white nationalist” label. Bull Moose Project clearly craves mainstream legitimacy, which Heritage and CPI affiliate American Moment supplied when they sponsored a Bull Moose Project event this spring. If Heritage or CPI disavowed the group for its record of pandering to white nationalists, Bull Moose Project’s reach would be sharply reduced. But Heritage and CPI have not done so, presumably because of Bull Moose Project’s focus on reaching young, politically-like minded white men. Heritage and CPI appear to regard Bull Moose Project as an asset in building bridges with an informal network of small populist groups including American Principles Project and New York Young Republican Club. Each of the groups in this network share certain social and industrial policy goals, and they want to create the impression of broad support for those goals.
“Perversely, spats with Fuentes (who is notoriously vicious toward competitors for his audience, especially if those competitors appear more successful than Fuentes at coating his ideas in a veneer of respectability) have hurt Bull Moose Project’s credibility with disaffected white teenage boys but have helped Bull Moose Project shrug off the ‘white nationalist’ label.”
The UnPopulist: You note that BMP uses a variety of channels to reach Fuentes’ audience. What is its modus operandi? How important is the internet and social media in its ability to reach its target demographic of alienated, young white men?
Jason Hart: Bull Moose Project exists almost entirely online, posting regularly to the Bull Moose Project and American Virtue accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram; Bull Moose Project also publishes videos from several populist contributors on its American Virtue YouTube channel, which also contains American Populist Union content from before APU’s 2022 merger with BMP. Bull Moose Project has hosted two events through its 501(c)(4) nonprofit, and a few more through the tax-exempt 501(c)(3) Bull Moose Project Foundation that houses American Virtue. The Bull Moose Leadership Summit held in CPI’s offices this spring—sponsored by Heritage and CPI affiliate American Moment and stacked with Claremont fellows on its speaking slate—was preceded by a December 2021 “Night to Save New York,” featuring speeches from American Moment president Saurabh Sharma and board member Ryan Girdusky. Bull Moose Project has drawn media coverage by demanding more federal regulation of the tech industry. These demands typically take the form of letters to Congress drafted with American Principles Project, New York Young Republican Club, or American Moment. In March, Bull Moose Project signed a letter with American Principles Project and Heritage Action imploring Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to use Federal Trade Commission vacancies to “elevate conservative skeptics of Big Tech.” Several days later, Bull Moose Project executives signed, along with leaders of American Principles Project and American Moment, a letter endorsing Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) and Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D-OH) “Railway Safety Act", a Trump- and Democrat-backed bill riddled with union handouts.
The UnPopulist: You note that BMP is trying to promote industrial policy goals. What are these goals? And given that industrial policy is typically associated with the Democratic left, is it fair to call the Bull Moose Project part of the far right?
Jason Hart: In some respects, Bull Moose Project is a “far-right” group. Before BMP merged with American Populist Union, APU executive David Carlson parroted one of the Nazis’ most famous phrases, writing that America was a product of “our blood and soil.” Upon merging with Carlson’s group, BMP made Carlson its Operations Director. BMP’s most famous content contributor is John BMP’s most famous content contributor is John Doyle, who organized a rally with Nick Fuentes in 2020 and was a “Special Guest” at a Fuentes conference last year. After the midterm elections, BMP tweeted, “The forces on the Right currently trying to undo the Trump revolution are treacherous scum and should be viewed even lower than leftists.” Bull Moose Project is socially conservative and supports right-wing policies with regard to abortion and transgender identity. It also supports the far-right goal of an immigration moratorium. But some of the Bull Moose Project’s policy agenda is more aligned with the American Left than the Right. Its positions on trade (BMP wants less of it), labor policy (BMP opposes right-to-work), industrial policy (BMP wants more central planning in the name of job creation), regulatory policy (BMP wants to use antitrust laws to break up large businesses in tech and other sectors), and the welfare state (BMP opposes entitlement reform and supports “pro-family” federal handouts) are almost entirely left-wing. So it is a classic populist outfit that amalgamates policies from both extremes, claiming to serve the interests of the white working class by pandering to its worst prejudices.
“Bull Moose Project is socially conservative and supports right-wing policies with regard to abortion and transgender identity. It also supports the far-right goal of an immigration moratorium. But some of the Bull Moose Project’s policy agenda is more aligned with the American Left than the Right…It is a classic populist outfit that amalgamates policies from both extremes, claiming to serve the interests of the white working class by pandering to its worst prejudices.”
The UnPopulist: What is the relationship between the BMP and the broader conservative movement? Is it merely reflective of the transformation of conservatism from Reaganism to MAGAism or is it the engine of this transformation?
Jason Hart: Bull Moose Project is a product of what its leaders call “the Trump revolution,” which coarsened the Republican Party and the nation as a whole by convincing a generation of politicos that abrasiveness was an asset and limited government was a liability. A boy in middle school in 2016 might reasonably have concluded, based on Trump winning election while behaving like a middle-schooler, that this was a shortcut to political success. While there are still conservative and free-market groups working to disabuse young men of that notion, there’s also now an ecosystem of MAGA activists—whom I refer to as “swampopulists”—who see Generation Z populists as the building blocks for “Trumpism after Trump.” The Claremont Institute is one of the worst offenders in this respect. CPI was founded and is run by Trump administration alumni who share Claremont’s MAGA-era dedication to “rewarding friends and punishing enemies,” and Heritage has gone awfully far down that road, too. Absent Donald Trump, the pro-union, pro-welfare state, protectionist central planners who run Bull Moose Project would probably be College Democrats. It is very telling that avowed conservatives are so eager to claim them, white nationalism and all.
“There’s also now an ecosystem of MAGA activists—whom I refer to as ‘swampopulists’—who see Generation Z populists as the building blocks for ‘Trumpism after Trump.’”
The UnPopulist: Mainstream conservative organizations such as the Heritage Foundation should have resisted the BMP. Instead, they have welcomed and supported it and its predecessor the American Populist Union (APU). Tell us more about this growing nexus and what it says about the direction that the “respectable” conservative movement is headed?
Jason Hart: Based on his recent speeches and essays, Heritage Foundation’s support for the Bull Moose Project reflects the priorities of Heritage president Kevin Roberts, who has said “Big Tech is an enemy of the American people” and echoed populist celebrity Tucker Carlson’s fuming against “the Uniparty,” “the Washington regime,” and globalism. He has made common cause with National Conservatism and talks ominously about the need for a Second American Revolution to vanquish a whole host of internal social enemies. I don’t know Kevin Roberts, so I can only speculate as to his motivations for turning the Heritage Foundation into a cheap knockoff of CPI—which was founded as a vehicle for MAGA populism by Jim DeMint after DeMint was forced out of Heritage. Roberts may be responding to the whims of current or prospective donors, but he appears to sincerely believe that what’s best for the conservative movement is to jettison fiscal conservatives, defense hawks, and anyone vaguely libertarian. Regardless, I alerted Heritage to the fact that Bull Moose Project is run by white nationalists in a Twitter thread that went semi-viral prior to the Bull Moose Leadership Summit (and it bears mentioning that Heritage VP of Communications Rob Bluey follows me on that platform). Heritage sponsored the event and sent two staffers to speak there just the same, and has not, to my knowledge, breathed a critical word of Bull Moose Project since.
The UnPopulist: What is the relationship between BMP and the GOP? What role did BMP play in the last few elections and what are its plans for influencing the 2024 presidential election?
Jason Hart: Bull Moose Project was created expressly to bring about “the populist takeover of the Republican Party.” In the 2022 cycle, Bull Moose Project endorsed 26 candidates for offices ranging from local government to U.S. Senate; only five of those candidates won, giving Bull Moose Project a 19% win rate in what was widely expected to be a Republican wave. Bull Moose Project is all in for Trump ‘24, though I don’t expect the group to impact the outcome of the presidential race one way or another. The group seems to be turning more of its attention to state legislative primaries, which will result in some combination of more GOP losses and worse GOP legislators.
The UnPopulist: To what extent does the BMP represent a real political threat? Many of the candidates it endorsed in the past have failed, after all.
Jason Hart: Any organization hosting a Heritage-sponsored event in a CPI office must be taken seriously, however ridiculous it seems. Bull Moose Project is part of an informal network of populist-nationalist groups that includes CPI affiliate American Moment, the American Principles Project, the New York Young Republican Club, and College Republicans of America—a College Republicans splinter group whose Affiliates Director is former Bull Moose Project staffer Gabe Guidarini, and whose advisors include Heritage staffer James Bacon.
These groups have ties to Steve Bannon and others in Donald Trump’s orbit. And in the unlikely event that Trump is elected president next year, they will be supplying staffers to the next Trump administration (American Moment and American Principles Project are both advisory board members of Project 2025, a Heritage Foundation planning effort toward that end). In the likelier event that Trump loses another presidential election, Bull Moose Project and its populist fellow-travelers will do all they can to blame anything but their own abrasive, economically interventionist, socially illiberal, and politically authoritarian message that they are trying to convince young Republicans is the way to go for the Grand Old Party.
The UnPopulist: What precisely do you worry would happen to the country if its influence continues to grow?
Jason Hart: Wider adoption of Bull Moose Project’s stances on regulation, trade, and industrial policy would be harmful to America’s economy, but what troubles me most is the fact that Bull Moose Project presents itself as a Christian organization. What people think about Jesus Christ is far more important to me than what people think about Republicans or conservatives, and pandering to white nationalists reinforces the worst stereotypes about the Christian faith. The Bible doesn’t say that immigrants, minorities, or neoconservatives alone need forgiveness; the Bible says “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” The Bible doesn’t say that only Anglo-Americans can be saved by faith in Jesus Christ, but that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Nationalist populism, with its emphasis on bigger government helping friends and harming enemies, is bad enough; nationalist populism whose fixation on racial identity politics drives people away from Jesus Christ’s admonition that “no man cometh unto the Father but by me” is much worse.
“The Bible doesn’t say that only Anglo-Americans can be saved by faith in Jesus Christ, but that ‘whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ Nationalist populism, with its emphasis on bigger government helping friends and harming enemies, is bad enough; nationalist populism whose fixation on racial identity politics drives people away from Jesus Christ’s admonition that ‘no man cometh unto the Father but by me’ is much worse.”
The UnPopulist: What would be an effective strategy or ways to defuse it?
Jason Hart: Sunlight remains the best disinfectant, to the extent that people care what it reveals. Two months after the Bull Moose Leadership Summit this spring, former Claremont fellow Pedro Gonzalez was outed as an antisemite. Gonzalez spoke on a panel with a Heritage staffer at the Bull Moose Leadership Summit, and moderated another panel that included a second Heritage staffer at the Heritage-sponsored event. Within another two months, Ron DeSantis fired campaign employee Nate Hochman for using a Nazi symbol in a video, and nationalist influencer Richard Hanania was busted for posting racist comments under a pseudonym. Cries of “cancel culture” should not prevent normal people from criticizing bigoted populists, especially if those populists have come under the wing of groups like Heritage and CPI, been touted in outlets ranging from Fox News to CNBC to The Washington Post, and convinced members of Congress that they are “trusted.” If even one of the journalists who has quoted Bull Moose Project spent a few hours investigating and then reporting on the group’s background, BMP’s ability to influence public policy would decline sharply.
I appreciate The UnPopulist taking the time for this interview, and I hope someone reading it can shine more light on this problem than I’m able to!
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