Cracks have appeared inside the Heritage Foundation, that Beltway bulwark of conservatism. In the last six months, the behemoth of a think tank has found itself in the news more for personnel drama than their policy ideas.
And after Politico broke the story Tuesday that the Heritage board was courting Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., to take over the organization, interim Heritage President Edwin Feulner clarified in an email, obtained first by the Washington Examiner, that "there have been no offers made to anyone, nor will there be, until much later."
Feulner did not, however, deny that Heritage had been in touch with the Nebraska senator who has held patently anti-Trump views. Without denying its substance, Feulner wrote that the report was indicative of "a town that loves gossip" and of a "press corps that thrives on rumor."
For his part, Sasse has been clear that he has no interest in Heritage's ivory tower. "If you ask me if he'll consider an offer to be the Huskers' offensive coordinator, I'll dodge," Sasse spokesman James Wegmann told Politico. "But the answer to these Heritage rumors is simple: Nope." (I should note, by way of disclosure, that James is my brother. He is not, nor has he ever been, a source for me.)
Normally headhunting in the professional world isn't this political or exciting. But it's intriguing because of the man the organization is trying to replace.
The Heritage Board voted unanimously to axe president and former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint in April. His loyalists were purged shortly after and, for a while, the goings on in the building resembled a sort of knife fight inside a phone booth.
According to an official statement, DeMint was forced out because of "a breakdown of internal communications and cooperation." Others inside the building say DeMint maintain that removed as the result of a coup orchestrated by Feulner's protégée and head of Heritage's lobbying arm, Mike Needham.
As the Washington Examiner detailed at the time, both sides have good arguments. Since then Feulner has remained mum on who might replace DeMint. When asked about Needham taking the throne, he demurred in a Washington Examiner interview.
In the email to Heritage staff, Feulner didn't shed much more light on DeMint's successor. "Here's what I can tell you about the search," he wrote, "we have a process in place" and the committee, led by Kay Cole James, is "sticking with that process and the timeline the committee has developed."
A source with knowledge of that process told the Washington Examiner that Heritage hopes to wrap up that process internally "by Thanksgiving." The source also claimed that "several members of the board seem open to the idea of Needham getting the job."
A Heritage spokeswoman did not confirm or deny the timeline or whether Needham was under consideration. Instead she forwarded a statement from Kay Cole James who insists that "there are more than 200 names under consideration as the prospective president of Heritage."
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.