According to these sources, the actual story is the exact opposite of what has thus far been peddled in the media, and it all starts with Ed Feulner’s creation of Heritage Action in 2010 and his decision to let Mike Needham, a brash former Rudy Giuliani operative, control the new operation. Contrary to the media narrative floated last week that DeMint needlessly politicized Heritage and turned it into a brass-knuckle political combat group instead of a policy-focused think tank, these sources say Needham bears much of the blame for politicizing Heritage.
Rather than pushing to make Heritage more political and less focused on producing high-quality policy research, DeMint actually tried to rein in Heritage Action in recent years, as the 501(c)(4) group began racking up enemy after enemy on Capitol Hill without actually putting any congressional policy points on the board. Multiple sources told The Federalist that Needham bristled at DeMint’s repeated attempts to assert control over the splinter organization and began plotting to overthrow DeMint once it became clear that the former South Carolina senator had no desire to outsource control of the think tank to the 30-something political operative with no policy background. At one point, a high-placed source told The Federalist, Needham personally confronted DeMint and his team and told them that DeMint was done, that Needham himself would be taking over the organization.
To be sure, nobody thinks DeMint was blameless. Sources indicate he was slow to develop relationships with board members, arguably reorganized the building too quickly, and didn’t see the threat that Heritage Action posed to the Heritage brand until it was too late. While there is much blame to go around for the failure of Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare, some critics wished Heritage had a successful plan ready to go when the 115th Congress convened.