A rumored shake-up at the Heritage Foundation has conservatives on high alert. Former Sen. Jim DeMint, a champion for conservative values while in the legislature, is expected to lose his post as Heritage President. A name floated as his potential replacement is White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, the controversial paleoconservative who previously served as CEO of Breitbart News.
Adding more fuel to the fire was an exchange between FOX News journalist Chris Wallace and Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham this morning. When pressed by Wallace, Needham refused to deny rumors that Bannon will be the next Heritage leader.
“There are a lot of stories out that Jim DeMint, the head of the Heritage Foundation, is going to be out and that Steve Bannon may become the new head, that this is going to be his safety net as he is forced out of the White House,” Wallace asked Needham on a “Fox News Sunday” broadcast. “What can you tell us?”
Needham refused to give a straight answer to Wallace’s question. “That there’s a lot of speculation and rumor in the media that never misses a chance to divide and attack conservatives,” Needham said.
Needham would not utter a bad word about his cohort DeMint publicly, applauding his “courageous career” of public service.
However, a Forbes article published today sheds some additional light on the source of the apparent rift between Needham and Demint that has developed behind the scenes.
In his op/ed, John Hart, former communications director for Sen. Jim DeMint, claimed that Needham’s aggressive and confrontational style alienated legislative allies and divided grassroots conservatives. He highlighted Heritage’s full-throated support of Sen. Ted Cruz’ 2013 Obamacare filibuster as a particularly embarrassing mis-step.
“After the shutdown debacle Heritage’s influence waned considerably… By the time DeMint realized the “beast with fangs” was out of control it was too late. The beast fought back and won,” Hart said.
In Hart’s eyes, Heritage Action is the “beast” and beast-master Needham is poised to gain power in a coup d’etat. Installing Bannon as figurehead could be the finishing touches of an aggressive, populist, turbo-charged Heritage Foundation reborn under Needham’s stewardship. He has been careful to downplay any controversy.
“The Heritage Foundation is an institution that is committed to formulating and promoting conservative policies and that is not going to change,” Needham assured conservatives during the interview. While Heritage may remain conservative, their leadership situation moving forward remains uncertain.