Four decades after its launch, the most powerful conservative think tank in Washington is getting new blood.
Jim DeMint’s surprise departure from the Senate reinvigorates the 39-year-old Heritage Foundation at a time when much of the ideas and policy output flowing from conservative think tanks has become predictable, uninspiring and often lacking in influence.Continue Reading
The ultimate impact of DeMint’s move remains to be seen, but in round-robin interviews with The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, he is already showing how a marquee name can raise the profile of the already venerable foundation.
But DeMint’s appointment is raising concerns among conservatives that, given his past experience on the political battlefield, the former senator will be tempted to turn Heritage into a weapon against Democrats, rather than as a fount of bold new ideas to inspire the right.
“Heritage under Jim DeMint could well be a powerful political force,” Bill Kristol, founding editor of the Weekly Standard, told POLITICO. “But will it be a powerful think tank, a source of new policy ideas and fresh thinking? I hope so.”
Because DeMint is founder of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, his appointment also bodes well for more conservative members of the Republican Party who champion Heritage’s recent moves further to the right, including the creation in 2010 of Heritage Action for America, which made an aggressive push for the repeal of President Barack Obama’s health care law.
“Republican congressmen have been deeply upset by the aggressiveness of Heritage Action for America, which sprung from The Heritage Foundation. There had been hope that HAFA would not be as forceful in the new year,” Erick Erickson, founder of conservative blog Red State, told POLITICO.
“DeMint not only ensures HAFA will continue to be forceful but also ensures The Heritage Foundation will continue being the conservative standard-bearer instead of trying to find ways to fit general Republican policies under a conservative banner,” Erickson added.
Meanwhile, DeMint will have greater influence on conservative policy than he ever could as a senator, those on the right said.
As president of Heritage, and freed from the constraints of lawmaking, DeMint will now have more than $80 million at his disposal to shape and push a conservative agenda and lead an aggressive opposition to Democrats.