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Archive for September 16th, 2022

At the risk of over-simplifying, there are three types of Republicans/conservatives today (at least from an economic perspective).

  • Reaganites – principled supporters of smaller government and individual liberty.
  • Trumpkins – populists or national conservatives who don’t care about the size of government
  • Bushies – the establishment crowd that often supports a bigger burden of government

Regular readers know which option I prefer, but I can appreciate anyone who has a consistent point of view (hence, my Ninth Theorem of Government).

Today’s column, however, is about how right-leaning organizations deal with the different strains of conservatism. Particularly when they have to deal with politicians.

I’m motivated to cover this topic since the Heritage Foundation (where I worked from 1990-2006) is under attack.

We’ll start with some excerpts from an article in the Dispatch by Audrey Fahlberg  Charlotte Lawson.

…some former employees believe Dr. Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation since December 2021, and other senior leaders have lost sight of the think tank’s original mission. Where it used to function as a haven for conservative intellectuals to shape the Republican Party’s agenda, many worry that the institution is attaching itself to a faction of the conservative movement that prioritizes partisanship over policy. …Several former employees cited Heritage’s departure from its foundational commitments—without the knowledge or consent of the scholars hired to translate them into policy positions—as their reason for leaving. Others pointed to one-on-one confrontations with the members of the leadership team over the organization’s ideological trajectory. Fights over who sets Heritage’s “one-voice policy”—which requires that all staff be publicly aligned on any given issue—have caused much of the friction. …Whereas scholars at right-leaning 501(c)(3) research institutions like Cato Institute, the Hudson Institute, and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) are permitted and often encouraged to disagree with each other about policy issues, Heritage prides itself in projecting the same voice on every policy issue.

The main bone of contention is whether to give full support to Ukraine.

The disputes extended beyond the debate over Ukraine and preceded Roberts’ leadership. Several former experts and researchers detailed limitations on their intellectual freedom beginning in the Trump era… “There were several instances where I was asked to scrub the phrase ‘President Trump’ from my pieces. I think it was to tamp down any suspected criticism,” said one former Heritage employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about internal dynamics. “We were definitely discouraged from mentioning the Biden administration by name as well, unless we were attacking them.” …At the tail end of the Trump presidency, one former communications staffer said, the media team shut down requests to schedule economics scholars for television appearances about the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement to preemptively quash any public criticism of Trump’s support for the trade deal. …Some tension has emerged between establishment conservatives and the national conservatives on Capitol Hill, though national conservatives are from the dominant force in the GOP today. That’s not necessarily the case at Heritage. Tori Smith—a former trade policy analyst at Heritage…observed that a similar “tension is playing out at Heritage, and the nationalist conservatives are winning, it’s abundantly clear.”

In a column for the Washington Post, Josh Rogin opined about this controversy inside the conservative movement.

The Heritage Foundation’s turn toward the “new right” is the clearest symbol yet that the MAGA movement’s foreign policy is becoming institutionalized… Some former staffers told me Roberts has prioritized political messaging over policy formation. As Heritage becomes beholden to the MAGA movement’s political whims, these analysts allege, the organization is now following the mob rather than leading it… On Ukraine, Heritage has broken with center-right think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Hudson Institute and is now aligned with the Center for Renewing America (run by Donald Trump’s former budget director Russ Vought), the Koch Institute, and conservatives at the Quincy Institute, who all argue for “restraint,” meaning the opposite of the long-standing internationalist bipartisan D.C. foreign policy consensus. …at the National Conservatism Conference, Roberts said, “I come not to invite national conservatives to join our conservative movement, but to acknowledge the plain truth that Heritage is already part of yours.” …on Fox News, Roberts said it’s time for the United States to declare independence from the “liberal world order.”

I’m not an expert on foreign policy, but I fully agree with the folks at Heritage that non-military foreign aid will not help Ukraine.

But I am wholly sympathetic to that country’s fight against Putin’s aggression. And I’m not sure if Heritage’s opposition to the “liberal world order” means standing aside while Ukraine is attacked.

I’ll close with a broader point about Trump, so-called national conservatism, and think tanks. Heritage’s president said that his organization is “already part of yours” in a speech to national conservatives.

This worries me. At the risk of understatement, national conservatives don’t seem very interested in controlling the size and scope of government.

I’m a believer in “fusionism,” the idea that conservatives and libertarians can be strong allies on economic issues. But that won’t be the case if groups like the Heritage Foundation throw in the towel.

P.S. Not surprisingly, I did side with my former employer when it was attacked by Paul Krugman.

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