Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint may be ousted from his position, according to several insiders at the think tank.
Several board members have been unhappy with the direction taken by Heritage under DeMint’s leadership. They feel it has become too political and too partisan at the expense of the foundation’s policy and research arms.
“He has been a congressman and senator. They are solo performers. When you are in the Senate, life is all about the senators,” said one board member, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly about DeMint’s situation. “CEO skills are different than senator skills. I think it boils down to attributes. I don’t think it is particularly personal.”
DeMint has been in contract negotiations, which are expected to be cut short, the sources said. An announcement about his future at Heritage is expected to come as early as Friday. His contract is up at the end of 2017, according to one board member.
A GOP operative who works closely with Heritage said DeMint’s removal as president was imminent and that more changes are expected to follow. “There’s massive turmoil over there right now,” the operative said.
Amid all of this, President Donald Trump praised DeMint by name during a speech to NRA members on Friday, calling DeMint “amazing” and “a real friend.”
DeMint could not immediately be reached for comment. Reached by phone, the chairman of the Heritage board, Thomas Saunders, said he was too busy at the moment to talk.
Former Heritage president Ed Feulner is expected to take over as interim president, according to one House Freedom Caucus member. Feulner did not respond to requests for comment.
Researchers and policy experts inside Heritage have not been clued in to the possible leadership change, according to interviews with a handful of them, though there has been a sense inside the building that something is afoot.
“If Heritage pushes Jim DeMint out, it was because a few board members, who are close to the Republican establishment, never wanted him to be president and have been working to push him out ever since,” said one operative who has worked with Heritage. “DeMint is one of the most respected and selfless conservative leaders in the country and pushing him out would be a big mistake.”
In recent months, DeMint has raised the profile of the think tank by closely aligning it with President Donald Trump. Last July, DeMint met with Trump transition officials for several hours and made it clear that if Trump won, he wanted to have a close working relationship with the administration.
For decades, liberal think tanks have not only engaged in partisan warfare, they have allowed their research to become politicized. And their personnel have become part of a revolving door for the White House when a Democrat occupies it.
The very nature of think tanks has changed, largely due to the change in our politics. Donors today — liberal or conservative — want their money to fund political combat, not esoteric policy papers on health care or urban blight.
DeMint probably rubbed some people the wrong way. Others may have seen his efforts to politicize Heritage as a corruption of its mission. But if he was doing what the donors wanted him to do, who are these other people to say differently or work to remove him?
There was a time in the 1970s when Heritage, the Hoover Institution, and a few other conservative think tanks acted as a conveyor belt for ideas, moving innovative solutions to national problems from policy concept to legislation. They didn’t concern themselves with politics. They left that to the politicians.
But times change and the think tanks are being drafted to give an intellectual patina to ideas that are used not so much to address national problems as they are to advance the cause of the Republican Party.
Intellectual conservatism died long before Donald Trump was elected president. Whether Jim DeMint stays or goes won’t affect that in the slightest.