One of the most influential conservative think tanks has chosen its next president — and she could help diversify American conservatism.
Kay Coles James will become the first African American woman to lead the Heritage Foundation, an organization known for influencing powerful conservatives. James, who previously served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, will succeed Jim DeMint, the former South Carolina senator that the Heritage board ousted earlier this year.
“I'm honored that the Heritage board of trustees has asked me to serve as the organization's next president,” she tweeted following the announcement. “What we believe, what we develop, what we fight for — these are the policies that help people.”
“I look forward to expanding the conservative movement in a positive, inclusive way as we build an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity and civil society flourish,” James added.
Some conservatives hope that a black woman taking over arguably one of the most conservative forces in Washington — a week after black women dealt a President Trump-endorsed candidate a decisive blow in the Alabama Senate election — will change black women's relationship with the GOP.
The Heritage Foundation has been the mind behind much of the Trump's policy, The Post's Steven Mufson reported:
“The close relationship between Trump and Heritage was forged in the early days of the campaign — when the candidate was widely considered a long shot and spurned by many traditional Republicans.
“When we were on the campaign, for Trump’s speeches we would pull stuff from Heritage budget documents and make the arguments that Heritage was making,” said Stephen Moore, a senior economic policy expert at Heritage who advised the Trump campaign. “I think it’s very accurate to say that a lot of these ideas … even some of the arguments they make, some of the rhetoric is almost verbatim from Heritage.”
Black women have generally not supported Trump's policies. An October Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found 13 percent of black women said the Republican Party represents their political views, while 83 percent say the party opposes their views.
This was noticeable last week when black women turned out in huge numbers to vote against GOP candidate Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate election. Ninety-eight percent of black women voted for Moore's opponent, with many saying they saw Moore as a local equivalent of a president who does not represent them.
But James appeared to downplay the role her identity as a black woman will play in her leadership. She told the Daily Signal, the Heritage Foundation's news organization, that her race and gender were an “afterthought” in her appointment:
“You know what I’m so excited about? The fact that I’m a woman and African American? I don’t think anybody on the board cared. It is absolutely not in their DNA, and I think we did it the right way. I think that they were looking for the best and the most qualified person, and you know, it’s like it was an afterthought.”
Whatever concerns black women had about not being welcomed in the Trump administration, especially after the exit of Omarosa Manigault Newman, the highest-ranking black woman in the White House, they likely won't be eradicated with James's appointment at Heritage.
James, who served on the Trump transition team, was reportedly “eager” to serve in the Trump administration but was “blocked,” Politico reported.
“I am told that I was blocked,” Politico reported she said Tuesday. “I was extremely disappointed that I didn't have the opportunity to serve there.”
While James may not have been accepted into the Trump administration, Heritage has obviously welcomed her — and some hope it will open the door for other minorities.
Author Crystal Wright, a conservative black woman, hopes that James leadership will diversify the staff at Heritage.
Michael Steele, the first African American chairman of the Republican National Committee, was also optimistic about what 2018 will bring for the conservative movement under James's leadership.
Former Obama campaign staffer Carly Pildis praised the ascension of black women to leadership positions across the political spectrum.
It is not yet clear how Heritage, under James's leadership, will influence the Trump White House. But as Republicans head into midterm elections in 2018, Trump and others at the White House may need voters from demographics underrepresented in their party to remain in control of Congress.