The headline over at TPM tells me that a “Heritage Foundation Founder” has “blasted” Jim DeMint, blaming him for bringing the group into low regard. The clickthrough reveals that the founder is Mickey Edwards, quoted in an A1, double-byline New York Times story about how political Heritage has become.
“DeMint has not only politicized Heritage, he’s also trivialized it,” said Mickey Edwards, a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation and a Republican former congressman.
Now, the evolution of Heritage from a center-right wonk shop into an intellectual and political engine for the Tea Party is one of the best stories in Washington. It’s also been happening for years—as the NYT points out, the 501(c)(4) Heritage Action was created in 2010, three years before DeMint took over. Conservative activists are generally pretty thrilled by the changes. Former Heritage staffers, who don’t talk on the record, are not. But Mickey Edwards will talk.
The problem: He keeps saying the same stuff. Edwards served in Congress from 1977 to 1993, meaning he left before the Gingrich revolution. Since then, with some interruptions, he’s been critiquing conservatism from the center or center-right. Six years ago, during a low point for the party, he published a book about how conservatism had gotten “lost.” (Spoiler: by backing more intrusive government and listening to the neocons.) In 2011 he joined No Labels, peddling basically the same ideas.
Edwards’ argument that the post-Bush right had betrayed his “New Right” made sense at first; it made less sense as libertarians accrued more influence in the GOP. So it’s become a more cultural, strategic critique, one that attacks the “not rational” demand for Republicans to sign tax pledges and the closed primaries that elevate more right-wing candidates. He’s happy to talk about how these new punks on the corner, the ones with the tattoos and loud rock music, have ruined his movement.
And so we find Edwards in NPR’s September 2013 piece about the post-Senate Jim DeMint.
Former Republican Rep. Mickey Edwards — who was one of the Heritage Foundation’s three trustees when it was founded in 1973 — calls DeMint’s tenure “an abysmal, abysmal kind of attempt at leadership.”
“He’s basically subverting the organization that he’s supposed to be leading,” Edwards says.
For many years, Edwards says, Heritage was respected as an academic, intellectual think tank. He fears that DeMint is shredding that legacy.
We find Edwards again, that same month, in Molly Ball’s excellent CW-setter about “the fall of the Heritage Foundation.”
Mickey Edwards, one of three founding trustees of the Heritage Foundation when it began in 1973, was one of those disturbed by Heritage’s turn, which, he told me, “makes it look like just another hack Tea Party kind of group.”
A former eight-term Republican congressman from Oklahoma, Edwards now serves as vice president of the Aspen Institute. “They’re destroying the reputation and credibility of the Heritage Foundation,” he added. “I think the respect for their [policy] work has been greatly diminished as a result.”
Two months later, in Julia Ioffe’s piece about the rise of Heritage Action, we turn a corner and find—Mickey Edwards.
“I don’t think any thoughtful person is going to take the Heritage Foundation very seriously, because they’ll say, How is this any different from the Tea Party?” says Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman and a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation. Looking at the organization he helped to create, Edwards finds it unrecognizable. “Going out there and trying to defeat people who don’t agree with us never occurred to us,” said Edwards. “It’s alien.”
The Wire’s Sara Morrison picks up the piece, and the reactions to it, and right there in the nut graf here are told that the think tank’s turns have worried “even Mickey Edwards, a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation.”
It’s true that Edwards co-founded Heritage, and true that he’s now a critic. But we’re into, what, month five of him being quoted as Even Heritage Co-Founder Mickey Edwards? It’s not a critique that moves or surprises people inside the big house on Massachusetts Avenue.