Meet the GOP Strategist Behind the Failed “Defund Obamacare” Movement

Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint.

Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/GettyImages

A good rule of profile writing is to find someone who’s pissed off a lot of people who should otherwise be their friends. TNR’s Julia Ioffe found just that in Michael Needham, as evidenced by pissed-off quotes from Republican strategists and staffers. Needham is Heritage Action’s 31-year-old strategy guru, Jim DeMint’s “barker.” He helped devise the “defund Obamacare” campaign and manned the cattle prod edging House Republicans toward the fiscal cliff. He was also instrumental in recruiting Heritage Action’s “sentinels”—die-hard conservatives sent to town halls across the country to harangue Republican representatives—to do their bidding.

This paragraph is most telling about how far Heritage has strayed from congressional Republicans:

Shortly after this summer’s farm bill debacle (Heritage Action pushed members to rid the bill of its food-stamp half, then still sent out a “no” alert on the revised bill, hanging out to dry members from agricultural districts), the outrage was such that the Heritage Foundation was banned from the weekly lunches of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), a conservative caucus of House Republicans. This was particularly ironic as the RSC and Heritage were once interwoven: In the 1970s, [Heritage co-founder Edwin] Feulner had been the RSC’s first executive director. “It really speaks volumes about a betrayal of trust,” says the Republican strategist. The House GOP aide puts it more starkly: “There are over two hundred thirty bridges to be burned in the House. Over two hundred of them are burned, and they maybe have about thirty more left.”

This isn’t the first story of a conservative think tank imploding—it happened last year, when former FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey was pushed out after staging a failed “coup.” Older strategists find the young strategists short-sighted and not pragmatic enough, but the young upstarts don’t care. Another quote about Needham: “People on the Hill are very much rubbed the wrong way by a former Giuliani staffer who is around thirty years old, running around and determining whether they’re conservative or not.” Apparently!