The American Enterprise Institute has selected Robert Doar as its new president, elevating the veteran government administrator and poverty scholar to an influential perch within the conservative movement and policy circles.
Doar, 57, will succeed Arthur C. Brooks, who has served as AEI’s president for the past decade and put an emphasis on drawing Republican leaders’ attention to poverty issues.
One of those Republicans, former House speaker Paul D. Ryan, had been floated by his allies as a possible candidate for the job. But Ryan declined those entreaties because he lives in Wisconsin and is pursuing various political and service projects, according to a person close to him who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Doar will formally take over AEI this summer, with Brooks transitioning out of his role in the coming months.
Doar is a mild-mannered Republican known for his conservative bent on policy, and has worked closely with Brooks and Ryan in recent years. His career has been marked by his stints working for moderates like former New York governor George E. Pataki (R) and then-independent New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
From 2007 to 2014, Doar served as head of human resources in Bloomberg’s administration, overseeing thousands of employees. And before that, he worked on disability, child support and poverty programs for Pataki.
Doar said in an interview this week that he is committed to preserving AEI’s mission — to be a gathering place for scholars, activists and politicians of all stripes, even though he acknowledged its obvious conservative leaning. He said he would work to ensure AEI does not become an organ for a particular ideology or party.
“We don’t have an AEI position,” Doar said, sitting at AEI’s headquarters near Dupont Circle in Washington. “The most important thing that happens at AEI is the work of the individual scholars. My goal is to really celebrate them and promote their work so it gets into the bloodstream of the national discussion.”
While AEI has been an informal farm team for the Trump administration, Doar said he does not want the think tank to be seen as a booster or critic of the president’s agenda.
National security adviser John Bolton and White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett, among others, previously worked at the think tank. Past scholars include President Gerald R. Ford and the conservative economist Milton Friedman. Former vice president Richard B. Cheney serves on AEI’s board of trustees, along with billionaire businessman Richard DeVos, the husband of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
“We have to call it as we see it. We’re nonpartisan. We’re not on somebody’s team,” Doar said. “We’re not here to cheerlead for President Trump or any official.”
If Trump or others in the White House reach out, “We’re here for him just like we’re here for Speaker Pelosi, any governor, or any political leader,” Doar said. “I like it better when they reach out to us.”
Doar noted that he looks forward to working on initiatives with more liberal think tanks such as the Brookings Institution, in the spirit of collaboration and finding solutions to policy matters that have long vexed Congress and presidents, such as poverty.
Doar’s low-key, decidedly nonpartisan approach to his new post comes at a time of mounting unrest among American conservatives as Trump’s populist positions on trade and immigration, and his aversion to foreign intervention, challenge traditional Republican views.
Doar said he welcomes the opportunity for AEI to be a moderator of those increasingly “robust” debates.
“There are some unresolved issues on the right side of political dialogue, and I want AEI to be a leader in working through those issues,” Doar said. In 2016, “whether certain people were wrong or certain people didn’t argue their position well enough, or just lost touch with the base of the Republican Party and American voters, we found out people had strong views that we need to address.”
Doar’s style is a change from the gregarious Brooks, who built a national profile at AEI as an author and a prominent speaker at conservative and intellectual events across the country. This week, the Opinions section of The Washington Post announced Brooks is becoming a columnist for the paper.
Doar is a graduate of Princeton University. He lives in Washington with his wife, Sara, with whom he has four children.
Doar’s father, John Doar, was a well-known assistant attorney general who worked on civil rights in the Justice Department in the 1960s, prosecuting murder cases of civil rights leaders and guiding federal integration efforts. President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
John Doar later served as chief counsel to the House Judiciary Committee as it investigated President Richard M. Nixon and the Watergate scandal.