The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Where did the think tank go?

There is no better example of the depths to which the once great Heritage Foundation has fallen than the rant by its president Jim DeMint favoring the suicidal gambit du jour, shutting down the government in an effort to defund Obamacare:

(The embarrassing softball interview is another thing, but that’s a different topic.)

There is nothing approaching the conservative thought or scholarship one would expect of a think tank. It’s pure politics, and the sort of amateur, unthinking brand that has gotten Republicans in trouble both in office and in campaigns. DeMint is hawking a series of town hall meetings, which I am sure will generate additions to the group’s e-mail list and hence to its funding base.

Heritage folks will announce that this is all under the guise of Heritage Action, a political entity, not the think tank per se. But who is kidding whom? DeMint speaks on behalf of both, and the latter has been entirely subsumed by the hard-knuckle political screeching for which Heritage Action is famous.

Like others pushing this political self-immolation, DeMint ignores the obvious: President Obama and Senate Democrats will never, ever go along with this. Eventually, House Republicans would have to cave, just as they did, for example, on the extension of the payroll tax break and just about every other budget face-off. That is precisely why so many elected Republicans think this is nonsense and won’t go along with the stunt. Moreover, the real funding for Obamacare is in the entitlement legislation, not the discretionary spending which is at issue this fall.

In sum, DeMint isn’t really trying to run a think tank. He’s running a political racket that takes the most extreme right-wing positions imaginable, decries those who won’t go along, wails when the stances they advocate fail and then uses the burning resentment it has stoked to generate headlines and donations. When do you suppose conservatives will realize they are being fleeced by this operation?

Republicans who want a Senate majority and a continuation of the House majority aren’t interested in lining DeMint’s pockets or boosting his profile. They need to demonstrate they can govern and attain conservative ends. In that regard, DeMint is the Democrats’ best friend.