In what has become a chaotic few days for the Heritage Foundation, perhaps the most influential conservative policy center in America, rumors are now spreading that President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, could become the think tank’s next president.
On Friday, Politico reported former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) is being pushed out of the Heritage Foundation’s top role. According to Politico’s report, one board member told the publication DeMint’s skills in the Senate have not translated well to the think tank.
“He has been a congressman and senator. They are solo performers. When you are in the Senate, life is all about the senators,” said the board member. “CEO skills are different than senator skills. I think it boils down to attributes. I don’t think it is particularly personal.”
DeMint had reportedly been in the midst of talks with the think tank over renewing his contract.
On Sunday, Fox News Channel’s Chris Wallace asked on “Fox News Sunday” Michael Needham—the CEO of Heritage Action, the government relations arm of the Heritage Foundation’s empire—whether Bannon could be the organization’s next president. Bannon's role in the White House has reportedly been reduced in recent months, and some have speculated he could leave the position at some point soon.
Rather than simply dismiss the rumor, Needham refused to directly answer the question, saying instead, "I can tell you there's a lot of speculation in the room and in the media that never misses a chance to divide and attack conservatives."
If Bannon is selected as the organization’s next president, he would be an odd and controversial choice, to say the least. Bannon is the former head of Breitbart and a self-described “economic nationalist,” which seems to conflict with the Heritage Foundation’s free-market economic views.
Bannon says he is “anti-establishment,” and he has in the past suggested the Heritage Foundation is part of the problem. In 2016, the Washington Post reported Bannon told the newspaper, “We think of ourselves as virulently anti-establishment, particularly ‘anti-’ the permanent political class. We say Paul Ryan was grown in a petri dish at the Heritage Foundation.”
Bannon also told the Daily Beast in 2013 he wants to “destroy” the establishment.
“I’m a Leninist,” Bannon said. “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
Interestingly, writing for the New York Times Magazine in March, Robert Draper recalled a conversation he allegedly had with Bannon in which Bannon dismissed the traditional conservative economic view. (Whether the conversation actually happened or not is, of course, unknown.)
According to Draper, Bannon told him, “What’s that Dostoyevsky line: Happy families are all the same, but unhappy families are unhappy in their own unique ways?” Draper wrote Bannon meant to refer to Tolstoy, not Dostoyevsky, and then wrote Bannon continued, “I think the Democrats are fundamentally afflicted with the inability to discuss and have an adult conversation about economics and jobs, because they’re too consumed by identity politics. And then the Republicans, it’s all this theoretical Cato Institute, Austrian economics, limited government—which just doesn’t have any depth to it. They’re not living in the real world.”
If Bannon were to be named president of the Heritage Foundation, these sorts of views would be a radical shift away from the organization’s previous views and could have a transformative impact on the entirety of the conservative public policy world.
Disclosure: The author of this article, in addition to being an editor at The Blaze, is executive editor of The Heartland Institute, a free-market, pro-liberty think tank.