Conservative champion Jim DeMint was ousted as president of the Heritage Foundation yesterday, a post the former Republican senator from South Carolina assumed in April 2013.
Newsweek reports DeMint wasn’t fired as such. It nonsensically reports that Heritage’s “board of trustees had unanimously voted for DeMint to resign from his role as president” — whatever that means — and that DeMint obediently tendered his resignation after the vote.
This is silly.
He obviously wasn’t merely urged to leave: his employment was terminated. Even if the board went through some kind of ridiculous fiction of offering DeMint the opportunity to quit, he was nonetheless constructively dismissed, as a lawyer would put it. (The real problem could be that Newsweek writer Conor Gaffey has no idea what he’s talking about.)
DeMint had to go, according to Politico, because “Heritage’s stewards — particularly DeMint’s predecessor, Ed Feulner, and Feulner’s sharp-elbowed protégé, Mike Needham — became convinced that DeMint was incapable of renewing the foundation’s place as an intellectual wellspring of the conservative movement.” Former president Feulner was named acting president of the group and is participating in a search for a permanent replacement for DeMint.
Heritage board president Thomas Saunders III issued a statement:
“After a comprehensive and independent review of the entire Heritage organization, the Board determined there were significant and worsening management issues that led to a breakdown of internal communications and cooperation. While the organization has seen many successes, Jim DeMint and a handful of his closest advisers failed to resolve these problems.”
I personally don’t buy it. It sounds too much like a convenient cover story.
Afterwards, DeMint responded when Saunders attacked him in the press. “The public statement released earlier is puzzling given that the board of trustees has praised our work for four years and approved performance bonuses for the entire management team each year for a job well done,” he said.
DeMint also listed his key accomplishments at Heritage, which “included a budget blueprint that was used as a model for President Trump’s “America First” budget proposal, issued in March; creating a list of potential Supreme Court justices, including Gorsuch; and playing a key role in Trump’s transition,” according to Newsweek.
Ken Cuccinelli of Senate Conservatives Fund issued a defense of DeMint that is worth reading:
Our founder, former Senator Jim DeMint, was removed as president of The Heritage Foundation yesterday. We believe this decision was a mistake and we’re proud to stand with conservatives across the country in supporting Jim DeMint.
Jim DeMint has been one of the most trusted voices in the conservative movement and he helped lay the political groundwork that enabled Donald Trump to defeat Hillary Clinton last year.
When news broke last week that DeMint was being pushed out, President Trump was quick to praise him, citing his “amazing” work in winning the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Likewise, over 40 conservative members of the House and Senate signed a letter this week applauding DeMint for being a “leading advocate for America at its best.” You can read their letter here and read more about DeMint’s record at Heritage here.
Jim DeMint was pushed out by a small group of insiders who put their own ambition above the interests of conservatives. They succeeded with the help of DeMint’s predecessor, Ed Feulner, who has close ties to the GOP establishment and even endorsed Mitch McConnell over conservative Matt Bevin in the 2014 Senate primary.
We want the best for Heritage. There are many principled analysts and staff who work there and we hope the organization remains an effective voice for conservative ideas for years to come.
But we stand firmly with Jim DeMint and hope you will too. We thank him for his service and look forward to watching him find new ways to advance the principles of freedom that make this country great.
At The Federalist, Mollie Hemingway reports that
the actual story is the exact opposite of what has thus far been peddled in the media, and it all starts with Ed Feulner’s creation of Heritage Action in 2010 and his decision to let Mike Needham, a brash former Rudy Giuliani operative, control the new operation. Contrary to the media narrative floated last week that DeMint needlessly politicized Heritage and turned it into a brass-knuckle political combat group instead of a policy-focused think tank, these sources say Needham bears much of the blame for politicizing Heritage.
Her sources tell her that DeMint did not try to make Heritage more political, nor did he try to de-emphasize policy research:
DeMint actually tried to rein in Heritage Action in recent years, as the 501(c)(4) group began racking up enemy after enemy on Capitol Hill without actually putting any congressional policy points on the board. Multiple sources told The Federalist that Needham bristled at DeMint’s repeated attempts to assert control over the splinter organization and began plotting to overthrow DeMint once it became clear that the former South Carolina senator had no desire to outsource control of the think tank to the 30-something political operative with no policy background. At one point, a high-placed source told The Federalist, Needham personally confronted DeMint and his team and told them that DeMint was done, that Needham himself would be taking over the organization.
Eventually we’ll find out what really happened at the Heritage Foundation.