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Heritage Action chief to take role at Nikki Haley group

Chapman will serve as executive director of Haley’s new advocacy group, Stand for America

Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. (Getty Images)

Heritage Action chief Tim Chapman, who plans to leave the conservative group this spring to join a new Nikki Haley advocacy organization, said he did not know whether the former ambassador to the United Nations might run for the White House in 2024. 

But he expects the former GOP governor of South Carolina to be an influential voice in policy issues. 

“I know that she’s going to be a strong policy leader for the next four years,” said Chapman during an interview with C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program. “You’ll see a lot of her out there.” 

The Newsmakers program will air this weekend.

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Chapman has been with Heritage Action for America, the lobbying and activism arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, since its beginning in 2010, amid the rise of the populist tea party movement. Chapman will serve as executive director of Haley’s new advocacy group, Stand for America. 

During the wide-ranging interview, Chapman discussed his access to the Trump administration, various policy matters including immigration, presidential tweets, and the sentencing of Roger Stone, a one-time lobbyist and longtime ally of President Donald Trump. 

“Obviously, infractions were made,” he said of Stone’s guilty verdict for obstructing a congressional probe into foreign interference in the 2016 elections. Stone was sentenced Thursday to more than three years in prison, and his case became embroiled in added controversy when the president inserted himself into the matter by tweeting his disapproval of stiffer initial sentencing recommendations from prosecutors, who later resigned from the case.  

Still, Chapman said, he wasn’t sure whether a potential presidential pardon would have long-lasting consequences should that happen. 

Tweeter-in-chief

Trump’s tweets, in general, have sometimes hurt the president’s image, he conceded. 

“You’re not going to stop the president’s tweets,” he said. “There’s a downside to it, but the upside to it is that he actually communicates with people in real time.” 

Chapman also reflected on the build-up of populism in both parties, evident on the right with Trump as well as conservative lawmakers from the Freedom Caucus, and on the left with Sen. Bernie Sanders, a senator from Vermont and a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination this year. 

“I actually think the populism will continue, but I think it’s going to begin to mature in a sense,” he said. 

Not surprisingly, Chapman had little in the way of praise for Democratic contenders for the White House.

Recent entrant Mike Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor who has spent more than $450 million of his multibillion-dollar fortune to run for president, undermines Democrats’ push for sweeping campaign finance overhauls, Chapman said. Picking Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, would not help Democrats’ changes of reclaiming the White House, Chapman predicted. 

Still,  he said, “at least with Sanders there’s a level of authenticity, there’s a real grassroots movement” behind his campaign.

Populism popular

Sanders’ rise, along with Trump in the White House, shows that populism is no longer a fringe movement and has infused major policy fights, such as the new trade deal between the United States, Mexico and Canada. Some of the party’s most hard-line conservatives have gone from being something of pariahs to the GOP mainstream and taking top spots on congressional committees.

[Once GOP pariahs, Freedom Caucus members earn top committee slots]

“When we started Heritage Action in 2010, we were very anti-establishment we had a lot of fights with our own leadership in the Republican party, and they were over these populist flash point issues,” Chapman added. 

Some of the biggest fights, pitting Heritage against then-Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, included an ultimately unsuccessful effort to shut down the Export-Import Bank, an export credit agency that helps businesses secure financing for major international deals. 

“And that kind of was the precursor to Trump in many ways, that period from 2010 to 2016,” Chapman said. 

Trump has been an agent for change, in some ways backing policies that the U.S. business community cheers, such as the 2017 tax overhaul and rollbacks of regulations. But when it comes to immigration, business groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, argue that the decline in legal immigration during the Trump era needs to reverse in order to fill job openings to spur economic activity. 

“I’m definitely more with the Trump administration,” Chapman said, adding that his priority is secure borders. “Then you can have lots of conversations about if there are needs to be filled. The need has to be there. It can’t be something that could be filled by an American worker.”  

Though Heritage used to be engaged in a policy war with the GOP establishment a decade ago, now the group has been involved in shaping immigration and other policy matters with a direct line to the White House.

Still, Chapman added, the White House does seek out conflicting voices, and not just from the right, he added. 

“I was in one meeting with the president where he had stakeholders on a certain issue, I won’t say what it was, but he had stakeholders from the left, the right, the middle, all sorts of different philosophies, and I was really impressed because what I saw there was somebody who was really sharp running the meeting and asking tough questions of even his allies,” Chapman said. “That is a side that you don’t actually see as much from the president, but I’ve seen it and it’s impressive.”

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