The South Carolinian’s view is that the old forms of think-tank advocacy aren’t enough to drive the D.C. policy discussion anymore. An organization like Heritage needs the best proposals, DeMint says, but it also needs to generate grassroots pressure that will push elected officials to pursue them. “People up here aren’t going to vote for anything because it’s a good idea and it’s best for our country,” he says, wearing a tie emblazoned with the Heritage logo during an interview in his Senate office. “Everything here is outside in. The only thing that’s going to move here is because outside interests are pushing it.”
Several people across the research field described Heritage’s recent strategy in similar terms. In the country’s partisan climate, Heritage must promote its ideas both inside and outside of Washington through its political-advocacy wing, says Lee Edwards, the foundation’s distinguished fellow in conservative thought. Heritage was once famous for eschewing book-length papers in favor of briefs short enough for members of Congress to read during the walk from their offices to the Capitol for a vote. (Today, just about every think tank apes that style.) Now it has decided that outreach to government officials is not enough to be truly influential. Because the political climate is “colder to some of the ideas we have,” the foundation must “go out there in the grassroots,” says Edwards, who describes himself as the organization’s historian.