Heritage Foundation’s Future
Given the Biden/Harris surge to the left, it’s a good time for a transition of Heritage leadership — calling Mike Pence.
In 1996, when we launched The Patriot Post, we did so with sage advice from conservative protagonists William F. Buckley (National Review, Emeritus) and Ed Feulner, PhD (Heritage Foundation, Emeritus) — which is one reason our First Amendment exercise is now the longest-running news and policy publications on the Web. I had known Ed for a decade before our launch, and he became one of our earliest endorsers: “The best Websites wield remarkable influence in the marketplace of ideas. The Patriot Post is a ‘must read’ for informed conservatives.”
The Heritage Foundation is the nation’s premier conservative think tank. From its start in 1973 under the leadership of Paul Weyrich, Ed Feulner, and Joseph Coors, it would soon become the primary institutional policy advisor for Ronald Reagan and has been that for Republican presidents and key conservative members of Congress ever since. With revenues of $5 million during the early Reagan years, Heritage grew rapidly and now has annual revenues in excess of $80-$100 million — which is to say its team of policy experts and influencers has likewise grown, and is now second to none. While Heritage’s annual revenues fluctuate by millions based on Legacy Gifts, baseline revenue, a combination of Membership and Major Gifts, remains stable.
In December of 2012, after Feulner announced his retirement, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), who had been instrumental in the successful 2010 Tea Party movement — returning the House to Republican control in order to combat Barack Obama’s regime — resigned from the Senate to take the reins at Heritage.
Given the exigency of the times, Heritage took on a much more partisan tone under DeMint, and he quickly fell out of favor with some board members — particular because of DeMint’s fratricidal criticism of “establishment Republicans.” Notably, however, by 2016, Donald Trump’s incoming administration hired hundreds of key people from Heritage’s list of most trusted conservatives compiled under DeMint — much as the Federalist Society provided Trump’s go-to list for his judicial appointments. The Heritage Foundation’s motto is, after all, “Leadership for America,” and DeMint’s “Reclaim America” initiative was a good template.
However, as a result of DeMint’s sometimes strident fratricidal orthodoxy, in 2017 he resigned at the Board’s request and now heads up the Conservative Partnership Institute.
Heritage hired Kay Coles James in 2018, the former director for the Office of Personnel Management under George W. Bush. She previously served several administration posts under George H.W. Bush and also served with conservative organizations, including Focus on the Family, Family Research Council and One to One Partnership.
Announcing her appointment to our readers, I quoted her: “You have my commitment: Heritage is safe with me. I’m in awe of this treasure you’ve built, and I pledge to you that I will protect it and grow it with the greatest care possible. The work of this extraordinary institution is so important. We’re not just a bulwark against the left. We’re a battleship for liberty.”
James, who was among the growing ranks of nationally-recognized black conservatives breaking the racial divide in recent decades, stood firm on significant policy fronts, including energy and budget. However, with the exception of a dustup with Google shortly after she joined Heritage, James has been very low profile.
Thanks to her leadership, in February of this year, Heritage was recognized in Forbes as the top-ranked free-market think tank.
But James’s tenure at Heritage during the tumultuous Trump years proved challenging, and this week, she and her executive vice president, Kim Holmes — not a Trump supporter — announced their resignations.
James noted, “When we came on board as the executive leadership team three years ago, we set several goals and told Heritage’s board of trustees that we would … see them through. We accomplished everything we set out to do. Now, it’s time to let someone else take the reins.” For his part, Holmes noted, “Heritage is strongly positioned to provide principled conservative public policy solutions to the current challenges facing America. I am deeply proud of our accomplishments and honored to have played a role in helping Heritage to be ‘True North’ for the conservative movement long into the future. I look forward to seeing the great successes yet to come.”
That is largely true, but James was also the subject of well-earned criticism last summer after the death of a black man while in the custody of Minneapolis police. She claimed in an op-ed: “Racism is America’s Achilles’ heel. It has been embedded into our culture for 400 years, since the first Africans were seized from their homes on the other side of the world and brought to colonial America in chains and enslaved. … It’s time America takes responsibility and expands human flourishing to all of its citizens — not just the majority of them.”
James sounded more like a race-bait apologist for the Left than a cornerstone of conservative principles, much less the head of the nation’s leading conservative think tank. But that Op/Ed was not a departure from one she had written two years earlier, her “Advice to Conservatives Wooing My Community” from an “African-American woman,” in which she expressed many of the same sentiments.
I presume to some degree last year, she was consumed in the moment, caught up in the national hysteria, as were too many otherwise thoughtful Americans. But as cities were besieged with burning, looting, and murdering mobs, James should have repudiated the surging Democrat Party claims fueling those riots — that America is consumed with “systemic racism.”
What James failed to make clear last summer, long-time Patriot Post supporter and George Mason University scholar Walter Williams made abundantly clear: “The true plight of black people has little or nothing to do with the police or what has been called ‘systemic racism.’” And the fact that James’s primary defender was Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, speaks volumes.
I suspect that James did not recover from that egregious and erroneous Op/Ed. I suspect in the end she sensed a board and staff vote of no confidence, though the chairman of Heritage’s board of trustees, Barb Van Andel-Gaby, says that unlike DeMint, “James’s decision to resign was her decision alone. The board did not request her resignation.” She will retain her board position and remain in an advisory capacity through the transition.
So, where to from here, Heritage?
Given the dramatic surge to the left under the Biden/Harris regime, it is a good time for a transition of Heritage leadership — and we hope that includes a team call to battle stations. We also hope that the selection of the next leader for Heritage will include a broader consensus of its membership and avoid the board room vacuums, which take too many good organizations down the wrong path.
Top of my list: Former Vice President Mike Pence, a highly respected conservative and dignified man of faith, whom I have supported since he was first elected to the House in 2000. Pence, a former chairman of the conservative House Republican Study Committee, has joined Heritage as a distinguished visiting fellow. He stewarded many Heritage short-list nominees into key Trump administration appointments. Pence, if they can get him, is rock-solid.
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776
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