News & Politics

Clashes With Rival Helped Lead to Jim DeMint’s Ouster

Photograph by Flickr user Gage Skidmore.

Jim DeMint, the firebrand president of the Heritage Foundation, is set to be dethroned as early as Friday, according to three sources with knowledge of the decision.

For months now, the former South Carolina senator has been under fire from many in the GOP establishment for steering the think tank away from the research and scholarship that first lifted it to prominence. Critics charged DeMint had remolded it into a cheerleading arm for the Trump administration.

But two senior Senate Republican aides and one former Heritage staffer tell Washingtonian that DeMint’s ouster stems also from his constant clashes with Mike Needham, who runs the think tank’s political arm, Heritage Action. DeMint, the sources say, had been increasingly unhappy with Needham’s “frequent self-promotion” and “weekly Fox News appearances.” DeMint, of course, wasn’t shy about his support for the Trump administration, but sources say he became convinced that Heritage Action “had taken over the whole thing.”

“Needham and Jim reached a boiling point,” the source says. “I know that [DeMint] has been very unhappy.”

Ed Feulner, a former Heritage president and Trump transition official, will step in as interim president.

In the last year, DeMint has spent nearly all of his time at home in South Carolina, prompting many to speculate about his future with the think tank. According to Politico, DeMint was in the midst of contract negotiations, which are “expected to be cut short.”

“From a conservative perspective, this was a big mistake,” says one senior Senate Republican aide. “He worked really well with conservatives on the Hill — the Senate, the Freedom Caucus. It’s tough to know what comes next.”

Staff Writer

Elaina Plott joined Washingtonian in June 2016 as a staff writer. She has written about her past life as an Ann Coulter fangirl, how the Obamas changed Washington, and the rise and fall of Roll Call. She previously covered Congress for National Review. Her writing has appeared in the New York Observer, GQ, and Harper’s Bazaar.