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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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