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DeMint to Leave Senate, Takeover at Heritage Foundation

Not surprised, but shocked as well for a few reasons.

South Carolina U.S. Senator Jim DeMint will replace Ed Feulner as president of the Heritage Foundation. Mr. DeMint will leave his post as South Carolina’s junior senator in early January to take control of the Washington think tank, which has an annual budget of about $80 million.

Sen. DeMint’s departure means that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, will name a successor, who will have to run in a special election in 2014. In that year, both Mr. DeMint’s replacement and Sen. Lindsey Graham will be running for reelection in South Carolina.

Mr. DeMint was reelected to a second term in 2010. The 61-year-old senator had announced earlier that he would not seek a third term.

Mr. Feulner, who is 71 and planned to step down, is to be named chancellor of Heritage, a new position, and will continue in a part-time capacity as chairman of the foundation’s Asian Studies Center.

In an interview preceding the succession announcement, Sen. DeMint said he is taking the Heritage job because he sees it as a vehicle to popularize conservative ideas in a way that connects with a broader public. “This is an urgent time,” the senator said, “because we saw in the last election we were not able to communicate conservative ideas that win elections.” Mr. DeMint, who was a market researcher before he entered politics, said he plans to take the Heritage Foundation’s traditional research plus that of think tanks at the state level and “translate those policy papers into real-life demonstrations of things that work.” He said, “We want to figure out what works at the local and state level” and give those models national attention.

Mr. DeMint, an active conservative partisan often at odds with his party’s leadership, says he will “protect the integrity of Heritage’s research and not politicize the policy component. Heritage is not just another grassroots political group.”

Still, the senator acknowledges that the political fires still burn: “This really gets my blood going again thinking about the possibilities. This is the time to elevate the conservative cause.”

Sen. DeMint plans to join Heritage in the first week of January, before the new session of Congress begins.

I had heard from friends still at Heritage that Dr. Feulner was looking for a graceful way to step aside.  He has led the Heritage Foundation since its founding in 1973, and his leadership has helped make Heritage the think tank for the conservative movement.

My one concern with DeMint is that he is known to try to have his hands in things he probably shouldn’t and by that I mean GOP Senate primaries.  His “Senate Conservatives Fund” (which I’m guessing he’ll have to suspend or leave) was known for getting involved in races — many of which ended badly in 2012 — and ticking off the NRSC.

Heritage doesn’t need to get drawn into that.  Heritage is bigger than the pettiness of that.  It’s prestige is more important than that.

In the time of the announcement of the WSJ story, I’ve reached out to a few friends at Heritage and they’ve told that believe that Heritage will still be the same, great think tank it has always been.  My hope is, that is true.

An all-staff meeting is supposed to be going on later, with a possible Foundry post explaining what a post-Feulner, Demint-led Heritage Foundation looks like.

UPDATE: Here’s the link from Heritage announcing the news.

UPDATE II: John Podhoretz points out my concerns with this news as it means to the future of the movement knowing DeMint’s temperament.

The temptation for DeMint will be to stress the institution’s role in opposition, which is his stock in trade as a senator, and to downgrade its policy role, which has had its major “up”s (welfare reform) and its blind-spot “down”s (advocating a health-care mandate in 1994). But if ideas do not play the central role, Heritage will hollow itself out, and that would be a great shame. Ed Feulner stands as one of the great public-policy innovators of the 20th century; it would be thrilling if the same could be said of Jim DeMint when he passes on the mantle to his successor.

Indeed.

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