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Brain Storm: Think Tanks Spawned by Election Losses

A look at past efforts.

In Washington, every electoral loss seems to yield a new think tank. It’s no surprise that with the election over and President Obama preparing for his reinauguration, Republicans have moved from licking their wounds to strategizing about how they can take back the White House in 2016 and beyond. If this list of past efforts is any guide, look soon for a new GOP “strategic nerve center” to welcome “different ideas”—with Bill Kristol involved in some capacity.


Heritage Foundation
Electoral Loss: 1971 (legislative setback)
Founder/Head: Ed Feulner
Goal: Heritage resolved to provide conservative perspective to lawmakers in a timely manner.
Sign of Success: Politically minded think tanks have been copying Heritage, to one degree or another, ever since.


Progressive Policy Institute
Electoral Loss: Michael Dukakis, 1988
Founders/Heads: Al From, Will Marshall
Goal: Centrist Democrats founded the Democratic Leadership Council and PPI to pull the party in a moderate direction.
Sign of Success: The Washington Post called PPI Bill Clinton’s “brain shop of choice,” saying it was “wired into the fledgling Clinton administration like a microchip.”


Project for the Republican Future
Electoral Loss: George H.W. Bush, 1992
Founder/Head: Bill Kristol
Goal: PRF was founded to serve as a “strategic nerve center”for “a coherent agenda of conservative reform.”
Sign of Success: PRF helped solidify GOP opposition to Clinton’s health-care plan. In 1995, it morphed into the still-influential Weekly Standard, which Kristol edits.


Center for American Progress
Electoral Loss: Al Gore, 2000
Founder/Head: John Podesta
Goal: CAP was to be a Heritage Foundation for the left, unabashedly defending and promoting Democratic Party interests.
Sign of Success: It was key to the ’06 Democratic congressional takeover and Obama’s 2008 victory. Podesta even chaired the Obama transition, which hired many CAP alums.


Center for a New American Security
Electoral Loss: John Kerry, 2004
Founders/Heads: Kurt M. Campbell and Michèle Flournoy
Goal: CNAS’s goal was to increase Democratic foreign-policy credibility.
Sign of Success: According to polls, in his 2012 campaign Obama eliminated the persistent GOP advantage on national security.


American Action Forum
Electoral Loss: John McCain, 2008
Founders/Heads: Douglas Holtz-Eakin
Goal: The think tank aimed to serve as a “CAP of the right.”
Sign of Success: Holtz-Eakin said there was “pretty widespread recognition” that the GOP needed to become demographically and ideologically broader. Sound familiar?


Center for American Freedom
Electoral Loss: John McCain, 2008
Founders/Heads: Michael Goldfarb and Matt Continetti
Goal: With Bill Kristol on the board, it also aims to be a conservative CAP.
Sign of Success: CAF took its homage to CAP’s messaging efforts so far that it didn’t even seek 501(c)(3) designation, instead opting to be a 501(c)(4) “political” group.

This article appears in the January 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.

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