(Bloomberg) -- As Donald Trump spends his days on trial in a New York City courthouse, a clutch of former advisers are quietly drafting his economic policy over phone calls, emails and drinks.

These competing factions of outside advisers are offering sometimes conflicting plans on tariff hikes, China, health care and taxes, according to people with knowledge of the matter. And their strategy aims to both persuade Trump and audition for potential Cabinet jobs should the Republican succeed in winning back the US presidency.

Trump’s ambitions to remake the US government have come under attack from Democrats who have labeled them extreme. By allowing outside advisers to craft his policy agenda, Trump can embrace only the ideas he likes and shun the ones that become politically toxic.

Trump has said he will impose stiffer tariffs on China, expand domestic energy drilling, reverse President Joe Biden’s subsidies for electric vehicles and green energy and demand Congress extend tax cuts set to expire in 2025. But that still leaves advisers and think tanks room to fill in the blanks.

The Heritage Foundation, America First Policy Institute, Center for Renewing America and the Conservative Partnership Institute are among the groups delving into the weeds of economic policy, drafting plans in hopes of positioning themselves as the go-to source for ideas in another Trump term.

Top Trump White House officials are heavily involved in the discussions, including Russ Vought, former director of the Office of Management and Budget. Robert Lighthizer, the former US Trade Representative, is leading some trade discussions, while Kevin Hassett, the former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, is running point on several economic issues. Hassett and Trump speak often, said one person familiar with their phone calls.

A slew of other aides from Trump’s Treasury Department, Commerce Department, Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Housing Finance Agency and the World Bank are also involved in discussions. Those people are also subtly jockeying for top roles in a new administration as they audition their policy ideas, people familiar said.

“Unless a message is coming directly from President Trump or an authorized member of his campaign team, no aspect of future presidential staffing or policy announcements should be deemed official,” top Trump campaign advisers Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita said in a statement.

‘Disposable’ Advisers

Wiles and LaCivita have repeatedly made it clear they do not want any of these advisers or groups to speak on behalf of the campaign. The campaign has been infuriated by recent stories detailing potential policy moves without their approval and has issued stern warnings to people who imply their ideas have Trump’s backing.

“Despite our being crystal clear, some ‘allies’ haven’t gotten the hint, and the media, in their anti-Trump zeal, has been all-too-willing to continue using anonymous sourcing and speculation about a second Trump administration in an effort to prevent a second Trump administration,” the two aides said in their statement. 

“If you have people with no title as informal advisers, they are by definition disposable,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former adviser to President George W. Bush and John McCain’s presidential campaign. “You can get rid of the person easily and that gives you an arm’s length deniability.”

Holtz-Eakin said one way voters can tell Trump is serious about a specific economic policy is if he discusses it himself at a rally, but even those mentions usually lack specifics.

“This has always given the campaign an irritating amount of flexibility,” he said.

One former administration official said the Trump campaign likes distance from policy discussions because it gives them the ability to pick ideas they like, with space to deny controversial proposals.

The rebukes from the campaign have not stopped the informal network from trading phone calls and draft proposals to outline what Trump should do with the economy and various agencies should he return to power. 

Discussions on trade and China remain the area with the most disagreement, just as they were when Trump was president, according to people familiar with the matter. A key area of tension is how high to hike tariffs on imports from China and other countries. During his first term, battles over trade often erupted in front of the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, pitting Republican free traders against protectionists.

Policy Talks

Former aides and oil and gas executives are urging Trump to approve drilling permits faster, open up federal lands for fracking and speed up pipeline permits, the people said. They also want canceled auctions for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico reinstated.

Aides agree on extending the key portions of Trump’s 2017 tax bill that expires next year, including personal income rate cuts. But they haven’t agreed on how to offset the cost of renewing those levy reductions, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will cost $4.6 trillion. Some ideas under discussion include repealing green-energy tax credits in Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act or leaning on higher tariffs as a revenue source.

On health care, there is no discussion of repealing or replacing the Affordable Care Act, an idea that consumed the Republican Party for more than a decade. There is some talk of trying to wring more savings from Medicaid and Medicare, but without cutting any benefits for seniors. The reduced costs could stem from lowering reimbursements for hospitals or drug companies, according to one person familiar with the discussion.

Vince Haley, a former Trump White House speechwriter, is coordinating the campaign’s policy discussions. For now, Trump’s New York criminal case has largely sidelined him from the campaign trail and policy talks, but the discussions are expected to ramp up after the Republican National Convention in July.

--With assistance from Jordan Fabian.

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