Jim DeMint Out At Heritage

There's been a palace coup at The Heritage Foundation.

Jim DeMint

In a tersely worded press release late yesterday afternoon, the Board of Trustees at the Heritage Foundation announced that former Senator Jim DeMint had resigned as President and CEO of the organization, a position he held since leaving the Senate in 2013:

The Heritage Foundation on Tuesday announced president Jim Demint’s resignation, blaming him for “significant and worsening management issues that led to a breakdown of internal communications and cooperation.”

“Jim DeMint and a handful of his closest advisers failed to resolve these problems,” a statement from the conservative group said.

The foundation’s board of trustees asked for and received the former senator’s resignation after a unanimous vote, the statement said.

DeMint took over the conservative think tank in 2013 after serving as a South Carolina senator since 2005.

Heritage announced that founder Ed Feulner has been elected president and CEO while the foundation chooses DeMint’s replacement.The Daily Beast reported Tuesday evening that four top Heritage staffers loyal to DeMint — Executive Vice President Bret Bernhardt, Vice President of Communications Wesley Denton, Vice President of Policy Promotion Ed Corrigan and DeMint’s chief of staff, Camera Seward — have resigned.

In a Tuesday evening statement, DeMint said, “I’m grateful to have worked with some of the greatest minds and talents in America and believe we’ve accomplished together what we set out to do.”

“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 added.

DeMint went on to tout Heritage’s “most successful impact on a presidential transition team since the days of Ronald Reagan, culminating in the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch and one of the best presidential cabinets in recent history.”

Over the past several weeks at least, there have been several signs that there were moves afoot among some forces at Heritage directed at pushing DeMint out of the way. Several of those reports indicated that many of the older hands on the Board of Trustees, such as Heritage found Ed Feulner, were displeased with the manner in which Heritage has seemed to lose its place as a respected public policy institution under DeMint’s leadership and has instead turned into something more activist through efforts such as Heritage Action, an organization that is technically separate from the Foundation and engages in advocacy and lobbying in much the same way as groups such as FreedomWorks and other organizations that have come to be associated with the Tea Party and, at least loosely, the pro-Trump wing of the Republican Party. This came to a head earlier this year when Heritage joined with other conservative activist groups to pressure Congress to reject the American Health Care Act, the Republican bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. In Heritage’s case, this change was a radical change from the day when the organization was essentially a clearinghouse for public policy research that, while generally conservative, was open to opposing points of view. It was Heritage, after all, that first proposed the basic outlines of what became the health care legislation that was passed into law when Mitt Romney was Governor which in turn was in many ways the progenitor for the substance of the Affordable Care Act. Under DeMint’s leadership, Heritage deviated from that path and became far more partisan, and far more closely tied to the Trump Administration. At least according to some reports, one of the motivations behind removing him was to return the organization to its roots, and the fact that Feulner himself is back as President and CEO seems to indicate that this is where the Board of Trustees wants to see the organization go in the future.

Politico’s Elania Johnson and Nancy Cook report on what was going on behind the scenes:


Jim DeMint’s ouster from The Heritage Foundation came as a shock to the hundreds of scholars and staffers who’ve seen the organization’s political influence grow thanks to DeMint’s controversial decision to align the leading conservative think tank closely with Donald Trump.

But interviews with over a dozen sources at the center of the drama suggest 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.


Ironically, it was Feulner’s decision in 2010 to create an advocacy organization, Heritage Action, and to install Needham atop it, that sowed the seeds of DeMint’s fall. Though the think tank and the advocacy arm are legally separate entities, several sources familiar with the institution’s internal dynamics say that both organizations became increasingly focused on mediating fights among congressional Republicans rather than on generating policy ideas. The problem existed before DeMint took the helm of Heritage in 2013, but has mushroomed since, Heritage insiders said.

But if DeMint wasn’t the source of the problem, sources say, board members concluded he wasn’t the solution, either.

“When DeMint went in, Heritage became very political. It changed from a highly respected think tank to just a partisan tool and more ideological — more of a tea party organization than a think tank,” said Mickey Edwards, one of the organization’s founding trustees and a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma. “Hopefully, Feulner, if he takes over, can help reestablish Heritage as what it used to be during the Reagan years.”

Disputes over the organization’s mission stretch back a year. In many ways, they reflect the larger intellectual and organizational disarray among conservatives exposed by the rise of Trump, and exacerbated by his victory. Many of the institutions that have sustained the conservative movement are grappling with their role at a time when conservatism is on the wane — and with how to work constructively with a populist in the White House.

The Heritage Foundation on Friday issued a blanket directive to its employees not to comment on the leadership change and canceled all of the weekly meetings it hosts with Republican aides on Capitol Hill.

Tuesday’s events were the culmination of repeated clashes between DeMint, on one side, and Feulner and Needham on the other. DeMint, who at one point suggested he would retire this year, announced at a senior management meeting several months ago that he intended to extend his contract. Even at that point, his relationship with Needham had become so strained that the news caused Needham to throw a chair across the room after DeMint left, according to a Heritage staffer.

Over the past several days, dueling narratives about the events leading to the board’s decision have emerged. DeMint’s defenders, legion on Capitol Hill, say the 35-year-old Needham, known as a political wunderkind, orchestrated DeMint’s ouster with an eye to taking control of the foundation in the coming years. Heritage Action has hammered Republicans from the right and Needham is widely disliked among GOP lawmakers.

A senior Republican Senate aide said Needham had been laying the groundwork to overthrow DeMint for more than a year and set about to convince board members one by one.

“I think a lot of board members are being told what Mike Needham thinks they want to hear,” the person said.

Needham’s allies say that DeMint was a disappointing steward who led a once-venerable but declining organization into further chaos. A member of the board insisted that, as of Tuesday, the board had no clear candidate in mind to replace DeMint, and that Needham had not engineered his removal.

“In my view, it’s about the institution,” the board member said.

The Needham camp insists that, despite his bombastic public profile, both he and Feulner grew increasingly concerned with the decline of The Heritage Foundation’s role as the brain trust of the Republican Party. DeMint’s and Needham’s motives “are the opposite of what you would expect based on their institutions and positions,” said one Republican policy maven — with Needham, the advocacy head, concerned about the think tank’s position as an idea generator, and DeMint, the think tank head, inclined to transform it into an activist organization.

Needham did not respond to a request for comment.


At the root of the drama is a longing among conservatives — particularly acute now that Republicans control both the White House and Congress — for a return to the days when their institutions and ideas enjoyed a singular influence in Washington and across the country.

In 1981, a newly elected President Ronald Reagan distributed The Heritage Foundation’s 3,000-page set of policy recommendations, known as the Mandate for Leadership, at his first Cabinet meeting. As thousands of the foundation’s recommendations were adopted, they made an indelible mark on the administration.

The passing of the baton back to Feulner marks an attempt, both literally and figuratively, to return to those days.

“Heritage’s academic credentials were much greater under Feulner than DeMint. Hopefully, Feulner, if he takes over, can help reestablish Heritage as what it used to be during the Reagan years,” Edwards said.

Given the extent to which DeMint’s leadership and the change in Heritage’s mission that occurred largely under his tenure, it’s hard to say whether or not his opponents on the board will succeed in their efforts to remake Heritage into something akin to what it was during the Reagan Era. The fact that there are so many more such think tanks and public policy organizations in Washington today, including groups such as the American Enterprise Institute and Cato, both of which existed at the time of the Reagan Presidency but have gained in prominence in the intervening decades, may make that project more difficult than they think it is though. Additionally, the fact that Needham remains at Heritage Action may mean that he’ll end up using DeMint’s absence to push both Heritage Action and the foundation in an activist direction more to his liking. Only time will tell who succeeds in that effort.

As for DeMint himself, only time will tell what becomes of him. His statement last night regarding his departure was rather defiant, so one assumes he’s still interested in being part of the political debate in Washington or elsewhere. He could end up at the head of some other organization, or he could end up trying to make a comeback in South Carolina politics. In that regard, the possibilities are somewhat limited, though. There’s a Governor’s race coming up in the Palmetto State in 2018, but that would involve challenging the current Governor Henry McMaster, who was sworn into the office after Nikki Haley was confirmed as Ambassador to the United Nations. Alternatively, Senator Lindsey Graham will be up for re-election in 2020 and he has been a frequent target for conservatives in the past. The effort to unseat him in 2014 went absolutely nowhere largely because the most prominent potential South Carolina Republicans declined to run against him. It’s unclear, though, if Graham will decide to run for a fourth term in 2020 when he will be sixty-five years old. If he doesn’t then one could easily see DeMint try to use the vacancy to make a political comeback if he passes on running for Governor.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Mark Ivey says:

    Remember when DeMint said that Obamacare was gonna be Obama’s end? 🙂

  2. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    If anyone deserves to be jobless…I’d vote for homeless and destitute…it’s this guy.
    You can look at his life and easily say the country would have been better off without him.
    And seeing that he wanted to privatize SS…not retirement benefits for you!!!

  3. al-Ameda says:

    The knives are out, aren’t they?

    The transition from the struggle to ‘save America from Liberalism!’ to ‘oh crap, we won’ brings with it some interesting ‘transitions.’

    From a purely schadenfreude perspective: I hope the Heritage Foundation struggles for a long time.

  4. grumpy realist says:

    OT: Fyre Festival Fiasco, Part VII:

    It really did turn out to be a case of hookers and blow.

    (The juiciest bit of all of this is that all the “promoters” (most of whom like K. Jenner never bothered to label what they posted as having been paid for) are now finding themselves yanked into the ever increasing spiral of lawsuits being brought. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of social media “celebrities”.)

  5. grumpy realist says:

    OT: Fyre Festival Fiasco, Part VIII:

    Fyre Festival Was So Great We Wanna Do It All Over Again Next Year

    (if the reported statistic is true, looks like Ja Rule has an incredibly valuable database: that of young rich Instagram junkies who are demonstratedly stupid enough to not learn from experience. I’m hoping, for the sake of my sanity, is that the “81%” percent is Trumpstatistics, a.k.a. a total lie.)

  6. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Hire a bombthrower and then act surprised when he starts throwing bombs … 🙄

    Needham is worse. Cue Large Marge and her singing extravaganza …

  7. michael reynolds says:

    How long until conservatives start to face the stark reality that their ideas are. . . what’s the right word, le mot juste? Oh, right: stupid. That’s it, their ideas are stupid.

    Look at the world around us. Make a list of all the countries where you’d feel reasonably comfortable raising a family. Guess what? Every one of those countries has a generous social safety net. Every one of those countries is semi-socialist.

    Now look at all the countries that follow the Ryan/Rand ideological approach. Go ahead, look. Right. There aren’t any, at least none you’d ever want to visit let alone live in.

    100% for semi-socialist safety-netters, 0% for Ryan/Rand libertarian/conservative. And why is that? Because, say it with me now: conservative ideas are stupid. This is why Ryan keeps failing. This is why the budget CR was a total collapse on the Right, with Democrats getting essentially everything they wanted. Conservatism and Reality are like Batman and Bruce Wayne – they cannot appear in the same place at the same time. Libertarian conservatism is useless. There is no there, there. It is nothing but spite and selfishness and that is not a basis for running an actual, real world government.

  8. SC_Birdflyte says:

    From what I know of him (personal meetings included), I’m not surprised he caused the stars to align against him. Delicious revenge – if he wants his old Senate seat back, he has to displace Lindsay Graham; if he wants his old Congressional seat back, he has to displace Trey Gowdy. It’s already a good day.

  9. JohnMcC says:

    Mr Trump is not an ‘orthodox’ follower of the ‘conservative’ gospel and he slipped in amongst them and stole the Republican Party! The ‘conservative movement’ turned out to be smoke-and-mirrors, a paper tiger. As our friend Michael Reynolds says – purveyors of stupid ideas.

    Now they’re having multiple crises. Fox News is breaking up. Heritage is breaking up. Their House leadership on which they counted is failing bigly.

    I’m not sure what the landscape will be in 2 or 3 years but it’s going to be much worse for committed ‘conservatives’ that it was 2 or 3 years ago. They are looking at irrelevance and they’re panicking. They’re fighting each other for seats on the lifeboat. Hannity had to call a staff meeting to tell his people he’s not leaving Fox. Now lets see if he’s allowed to stay. It has come to that.

  10. al-Ameda says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Look at the world around us. Make a list of all the countries where you’d feel reasonably comfortable raising a family. Guess what? Every one of those countries has a generous social safety net. Every one of those countries is semi-socialist.

    Now look at all the countries that follow the Ryan/Rand ideological approach. Go ahead, look. Right. There aren’t any, at least none you’d ever want to visit let alone live in.

    I have a very close relative who has lived and worked in France for over 30 years. His income relative to mine is at least 50% lower, and yet it can legitimately be argued that his standard of living is superior to mine. Here in America we would say that he is working white collar middle class.

    He is completely on the french economy, he pays taxes to the french government, he and his family are covered by the French national health insurance plan, and so forth. His son attended a french university wherein tuition is paid by the french government. The social services received for his tax euros completely support his very middle class standard of living.

    If America was actually serious about supporting the middle class in this new digital economy, we would not constantly be drooling out of the sides of our faces while demanding more tax cuts that benefit only the wealthiest Americans, we would be on the move toward a single-payer health insurance system.

    We’re not serious, we won’t even discuss it rationally.

  11. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Now look at all the countries that follow the Ryan/Rand ideological approach.

    I’ve long said; show me a country where shrinking the Government and reducing spending dramatically have made things better. Oh…hasn’t been done, ever…

  12. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    OT – Nate Silver on the Comey Letter and it’s impact on the election.

  13. gVOR08 says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    show me a country where shrinking the Government and reducing spending dramatically have made things better.

    Well, there there are the states, Brownback’s Kansas and Jindal’s Louisiana. Oh wait…

    On the other hand, there is California, which was able to solve its fiscal crises as soon as they got rid of Republicans.

  14. Tyrell says:

    @JohnMcC: One thing that has happened with the political parties is the shift or geographical movement that they have done. At one time the Democrats were strong in the south and south west. Republicans had the New England, northeast, some midwest, and California. Now it has almost completely flip flopped, reversed, and swapped. The two parties got away from their geographical alignments. These movements could well explain the tension, extremes, furor, and gridlock in politics. You have politicians way out on the edge instead of meeting in the middle to seek compromises, deals, and negotiations. It used to be the committees and speaker of the House worked things out and came up with something. That generally kept the process more reasonable and in the middle of the road: everyone got something, no one got everything they wanted. The process, not perfect, but it worked: things got done.
    Now they are far apart. The smoke filled rooms are gone. The leaders are pushed by handlers and everything seems to always wind up in some big conflict with both sides digging in their heels: government shutdowns.
    The Democrats seem to want to stay holed up in California. Years ago they wrote the south off and have been reluctant to try to rebuild their southern legacy: Johnson, Fulbright, Russell, Hollings, Connally, Carter, Nunn, Ervin, Long. They have been having problems ever since. There are still plenty of southern Democrats around: they are mainly in the local areas. Around here a Republican can’t get elected assistant school crossing guard or dog catcher. The Republican party has been on the outs since Reconstruction. The people keep hoping for a Democrat party that is in tune with the middle class people and their values. Even Pelosi said the other day that some of their positions cost them the election and that things needed to change. So there are plenty of areas and people that would be receptive to the Democratic party if they broaden their base and return to the values that they once had. If John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Hubert Humphrey were around now, the Democrat party leadership would not have them.
    The party leaders need to look at the way things were done in the past .

  15. JohnMcC says:

    @Tyrell: Bless your heart, my friend. Such a thoughtful comment.

    About that transition of much of your landscape from D- to R-, let me tell you something. They wrote about it at the time. You can still read it. It’s called books. The best is called “The Emerging Republican Majority” from about 1968. You can see they had a plan to become the dominant party in the demographic of ‘white, southern’ and they followed it and after they won – they were swallowed by their prey. Strom Thurman became the platonic-ideal Republican Senator.

    You should read it.

    Have a great day, now.

  16. MBunge says:

    Guess what? Every one of those countries has a generous social safety net. Every one of those countries is semi-socialist.

    Britain? France? Germany? Greece? And I’m pretty sure Ayn Rand had little to do with the wonderful times they’re currently experiencing in Venezuela. And what did New York City look like before a couple decades of Republican mayors? And why did the residents of the California utopia vote for Arnold Schwarzenegger?

    I’m not sure why it should be at all difficult to blast conservative stupidity and malevolence WITHOUT ignoring the profound and demonstrable problems on the other sign of the aisle.


  17. michael reynolds says:

    What are you babbling about? I swear you’re getting less coherent with each day.

    Germany? France?

    What does that mean, Mike? Seriously, what point do you think that makes?

    Arnold Schwarzenegger?

    Yes, well, OK. . . Schwarzenegger! You have certainly proved. . . what, exactly? I mean, you’re going to have to help us out here, because this just looks like you’ve been lobotomized. Are you dumbing down for Trump? Is that it?