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Mandate for Leadership

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The cover of the 2025 edition of Mandate for Leadership, published by The Heritage Foundation

Mandate for Leadership is a series of books published by The Heritage Foundation, an American conservative think-tank based in Washington, D.C. They offer specific conservative policy recommendations designed to be implemented by the federal government.

The books have traditionally been released to coincide with an incoming U.S. presidential administration. The first edition was released in 1981, following the election of Ronald Reagan to serve as policy guidance for the incoming Reagan administration. The latest edition was published in April 2023.


In 1979, at a trustees' meeting of The Heritage Foundation, Jack Eckerd, former head of the General Services Administration in Ford administration, suggested that the foundation draw up a conservative plan of action for the next incoming presidential administration in January 1981. Robert Krieble proposed that Heritage produce a manual to help policymakers "cut the size of government and manage it more effectively".[1]

The first edition was overseen and edited by Charles Heatherly, a former field director of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. In late January 1980, Heatherly produced a five-page outline titled Mandate for Leadership. Heatherly explained that the purpose of the project was to present concrete proposals to "revitalize our economy, strengthen our national security and halt the centralization of power in the federal government".[1][2]

Both the Reagan and Carter campaigns were approached by Heritage to discuss the project. However, they only received a reply from the Reagan–Bush campaign, and in July 1980, Reagan aide Edwin Meese was a surprise guest at a dinner held by Heritage for the project's team chairmen and co-chairmen. There, Meese gave the Heritage study his blessing, which was seen as a sign of the Reagan administration's receptiveness to the project.[1]

Mandate I[edit]

In January 1981, Mandate for Leadership was released as a 20 volume, 3,000 page publication. Mandate contained more than 2,000 individual suggestions to move the federal government in a conservative direction, focusing on management and administration. The report "presented an explicit plan for reshaping public discourse on civil rights issues[3]". To that end, it recommended the Justice Department "halt its affirmative action policies to remedy past discrimination against women and other minorities."[4]

Specific suggestions related to spending included raising the defense budget by $20 billion in fiscal year 1981 and increasing it by an average of $35 billion over the next five years; establishing urban “enterprise zones” to encourage businesses to move into the nation's inner cities; reducing personal income tax rates by 10 percent across the board; calling for line-item veto power by the president; and developing a new strategic bomber by using B-1 and advanced bomber technology.[1]

At the first meeting of his cabinet, President Reagan passed out copies of Mandate, and many of the study's authors were recruited into the White House administration. In particular, the Reagan administration hired key Mandate contributors: William Bennett as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (and later as Secretary of Education) and James G. Watt as Secretary of the Interior.[5]

According to Mandate's authors, around 60% of the 2,000 proposals in it were implemented or initiated at the end of Reagan's first year in office.[1][6] In a report on the first year of the Reagan administration, The Heritage Foundation expressed disappointment with the government's defense and foreign policy, while it lauded the Office of Management and Budget.[7]

Mandate for Leadership appeared on The Washington Post's paperback bestseller list[1] and the Post called it “an action plan for turning the government toward the right as fast as possible.”[8] The New York Times in 2002 called it “the manifesto of the Reagan revolution.”[9]

Mandate II and III[edit]

In 1984, Heritage released Mandate for Leadership II: Continuing the Conservative Revolution. The study featured 1,300 recommendations from 150 contributors, and continued the original Mandate's aim of reforming the federal government and strengthening U.S. defenses.[10] Heritage published its third manual for an incoming administration in 1988, titled Mandate for Leadership III: Policy Strategies for the 1990s. This edition was edited by Charles Heatherly and Burt Pines.[11]

Mandate IV[edit]

Prior to the 1996 presidential election Heritage published the fourth Mandate for Leadership edition. Mandate IV was aimed at Congress, and focused on presenting a political strategy for Congress to continue the conservative policies of the outgoing Republican presidential administration.[12] This edition of Mandate was offered as study material at an orientation conference attended by both Democratic and Republican freshman congressmen held by The Heritage Foundation and Empower America.[13] In particular, a chapter on moving an agenda through Congress was recommended by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott to House Speaker Newt Gingrich.[13]

Mandate V[edit]

The fifth edition in the Mandate series, Mandate for Leadership 2000, included the edited transcripts of nine nonpartisan public sessions held by Heritage in 2000 called “The Keys to a Successful Presidency”. The forums focused on how past presidents and administrations implemented their policy agendas from their first day in office. Participants included Leon Panetta, former chief of staff to President Clinton; Martin Anderson, who advised President Reagan on domestic policy; Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Carter; and columnist Robert Novak. Historian and former congressional aide, Alvin S. Felzenberg was Mandate for Leadership 2000's project director.[12]

Mandate VI[edit]

In 2005, Heritage published the sixth edition of Mandate for Leadership. This edition of Mandate was just 156 pages long. According to Heritage, the shorter length reflected that policies and ideas from the early Mandate editions had, by the time of this publication, largely become part of the mainstream debate.[5][14]

Mandate VII[edit]

The seventh edition of Mandate for Leadership was published in November 2016, shortly after the 2016 election of Donald Trump as presidency. This edition was longer than prior editions, published in three volumes, in part because much of the progress of the foundation's public policy agenda had been lost during the presidency of Barack Obama.[15]

Mandate IX[edit]

The ninth edition in the Mandate series, Mandate for Leadership 2025: The Conservative Promise, was published in April 2023, its earliest publication before the presidential election. Edited by Paul Dans and Steven Groves, it has 30 chapters and is over 900 pages in length.[16] This document provides the policy agenda for Project 2025.[17]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Edwards, Lee (1997). The Power of Ideas. Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books. pp. 41–68. ISBN 0-915463-77-6.
  2. ^ Heatherly, Charles (1981). Mandate for Leadership: Policy Management in a Conservative Administration. Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation. p. vii.
  3. ^ Horton, Carol A. (2005-09-08). Race and the Making of American Liberalism. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190286675.
  4. ^ "Conservative group urges change in affirmative action policies". UPI. Retrieved 2017-09-19.
  5. ^ a b John J. Miller (20 January 2005). "The Heritage Mandate: Government grows, but a famous book shrinks". National Review. Archived from the original on 6 April 2012. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  6. ^ Holwill, Richard (1981). The First Year. Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation. p. 1.
  7. ^ PHIL GAILEY (22 November 1981). "HERITAGE FOUNDATION DISAPPOINTED BY REAGAN". New York Times. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  8. ^ Omang, Joanne (16 November 1980). "The Heritage Report: Getting the Government Right with Reagan". Washington Post.
  9. ^ Mark Dowie (6 July 2002). "Learning From the Right Wing". New York Times. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  10. ^ "Washington Talk: Mandate and the Sequel". New York Times. 5 December 1984.
  11. ^ Edwards, Lee (1997). The Power of Ideas. Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books. pp. 25–35. ISBN 0-915463-77-6.
  12. ^ a b Edwards, Lee (1997). The Power of Ideas. Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books. pp. 51–66. ISBN 0-915463-77-6.
  13. ^ a b Lambro, Donald (16 January 1997). "Learning from Last Year's Errors". Washington Times.
  14. ^ "New "MANDATE FOR LEADERSHIP" Will Help Citizens Keep Politicians Honest". The Heritage Foundation. 10 January 2005. Retrieved 13 March 2011.
  15. ^ "Mandate for Leadership: A Comprehensive Policy Agenda for a New Administration | The Heritage Foundation".
  16. ^ "Project 2025 Publishes Comprehensive Policy Guide, 'Mandate for Leadership: The Conservative Promise | The Heritage Foundation".
  17. ^ "Policy Agenda | Project 2025".

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