The Evolution of Heritage

February 24th, 2014

I’ve previously commented on the sense of many in Washington that the Heritage Foundation, since the arrival of Jim DeMint, and changed from primarily a policy think tank to a partisan supporter of political goals. There is a very big difference.

The Times has a feature on this shift from policy to politics:

From its inception in 1973, the Heritage Foundation has provided the blueprint for theRepublican Party’s ideas in Washington. In doing so, it has proved to be the most durable organization of its kind.

But under Mr. DeMint, a South Carolinian who gave up his Senate seat last year to take the helm, Heritage has shifted. Long known as an incubator for policy ideas and the embodiment of the party establishment, it has become more of a political organization feeding off the rising populism of the Tea Party movement.

“Politics follows the culture,” Mr. DeMint said in an interview. “The conservative movement has been derelict in not putting together an organized movement across this country.”

In recent months, some of the group’s most prominent scholars have left. Research that seemed to undermine Heritage’s political goals has been squelched, former Heritage officials say. And more and more, the work of policy analysts is tailored for social media.

With the collapse of the wall between Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action, there has been an exodus of top scholars, and an unfortunate brain drain. Specifically, Heritage Action staffers would accompany policy experts to Capitol Hill:

Efforts by Heritage Action have included pressuring members of Congress to vote against nearly every piece of legislation intended to attract both moderate and conservative Republicans, scoring their votes and often crusading against noncompliant members. Heritage Action staff members began to accompany policy experts to Capitol Hill.

“We need to educate the people who are making the sausage and those who are being force-fed it: the American people,” said Edwin J. Feulner, 72, a founder of the Heritage Foundation, whom Mr. DeMint replaced.

Under Mr. DeMint, the research arm of Heritage has been all but consumed by Heritage Action, which, some former officials and members of Congress say, has weakened the Heritage Foundation’s influence on Capitol Hill, alienated all but the right fringe of the Republican Party and marginalized the serious research that had been a Heritage Foundation hallmark.

“DeMint has not only politicized Heritage, he’s also trivialized it,” said Mickey Edwards, a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation and a Republican former congressman.

As a result, Heritage was kicked out of the weekly Republican Study Committee.

Perhaps no event has been more indicative of the foundation’s new relations with Congress than the decision by House Republicans last summer to kick Heritage Foundation analysts out of the weekly meeting of their Republican Study Committee.

Heritage officials had been the only outsiders allowed in the meeting. But as Heritage Action became more aggressive, study committee members demanded to know why the people criticizing them in their districts were listening in on their strategizing in Washington.

This evolution at Heritage stresses the significance of the Cato Institute, which resisted their own revolution.