How Heritage Went Wrong, Jim DeMint is Removed

The Wall Street Journal title indicates the editors agree with the boards action to let Jim DeMint go, however, the How Heritage Went Wrong, Jim DeMint is Removed.  If you want to know more from the source, click

WSJ Opinion – How Heritage Went Wrong

The think tank abandoned ideas for political muscle.
May 2, 2017

The Heritage Foundation has played a storied role in the spread of conservative ideas going back to its founding in 1973. But in recent years the think tank has lost its way, and on Tuesday the Heritage board removed President and CEO Jim DeMint, the former South Carolina Republican Senator.

We don’t know the details of what happened inside the organization, which had a budget of more than $80 million in 2015. Competing story lines, many no doubt self-serving, have made it into the press. But who did what to whom is less important than understanding how Heritage went wrong. The essential problem is that Heritage abandoned its mission to promote ideas in order to become a political muscle shop.

This isn’t entirely Mr. DeMint’s doing. Chairman Thomas Saunders, who led the board in sacking Mr. DeMint, was responsible for hiring the Senator in 2013. If you don’t want a think tank to become too political, it’s probably not a good idea to hire a politician to lead it.

Mr. DeMint immediately began to focus on applying political pressure on Republicans as he did when he had run the Senate Conservatives Fund. He conspired with Senator Ted Cruz to shut down the government in 2013 unless ObamaCare was repealed—a kamikaze mission that accomplished nothing. As Mr. DeMint’s political direction became clear, many of Heritage’s best scholars chose to leave.

But Heritage’s political turn began even before Mr. DeMint took over from co-founder and longtime president Ed Feulner. In 2010 Mr. Feulner, already contemplating his retirement, created an active political arm and 501(c)(4) called Heritage Action. We ran an op-ed by Mr. Feulner at the time that announced Heritage Action as a way to promote conservative principles.

It hasn’t turned out that way, as Heritage Action has mugged the think tank. Led by political operative Michael Needham, Heritage Action has become a Beltway enforcer of whatever political strategy Mr. Needham and his band of internet allies think Republicans should pursue. Longtime Heritage principles like free trade were thrown over for political expediency. The think tank’s morning newsletter, The Daily Signal, has become a vehicle to promote the Freedom Caucus rather than conservative reform.

Members of Congress no longer pay attention to Heritage’s policy proposals, to the extent there are any, because those became less important than Mr. Needham’s congressional vote scorecard. Raising money by promoting a never-ending narrative of GOP “betrayal” has become more important than advancing conservative ideas.

This power play has taken an especially destructive turn this year as Heritage Action led the opposition to the House health-care reform. Mr. Needham wanted Congress to pass a repeal-only bill, but the votes weren’t there to do so. Rather than accept incremental progress, he led a campaign to defeat repeal and replace. Heritage Action recently endorsed a compromise version, but its initial onslaught needlessly divided Republicans and may have done too much damage to salvage any reform.

Mr. Feulner is returning to run Heritage on an interim basis while the board looks for its next president, and we wish him well. But if the board wants to return Heritage to its previous influence it will have to return to its original mission. Heritage Action has become an obstacle to conservative progress.

Appeared in the May. 03, 2017, print edition.


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