Will blistering populist Steve Bannon replace fiery conservative Jim DeMint as the new head of the Heritage Foundation? "No. No. No," said interim President Ed Feulner, ending three days of speculation and crushing the pipe dreams of a million Pepe the Frogs in the process.
While the idea of the conservative think tank becoming an alt-right bastion seems preposterous, the Bannon suggestion sparked a bonfire of speculation during an information vacuum over the weekend. Even Feulner's daughter had questions.
"When she saw that reported in the New York Times," Feulner explained in an interview with the Washington Examiner, "she said, 'Dad, are you really?'" To answer, the loquacious academic cut to the chase, "I said Emily, 100 percent no, not at Heritage."
In a lengthy phone interview, Feulner tried correcting what by all accounts was a public relations fiasco. News that DeMint was being forced into retirement sent right-wing circles into shock Friday and left Heritage employees completely in the dark for days.
Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham, who reportedly played a role in the DeMint coup, dumped gasoline on the fire when he demurred on Bannon during a Fox News interview Sunday. Feulner said his ambitious protege wasn't being coy; he was only following the advice of the Heritage Foundation's legal counsel.
Now that DeMint and Heritage have parted ways, Feulner opened up during a lengthy interview.
"He's an incredibly thoughtful and remarkably gifted individual," Feulner said, referring to the former Breitbart executive. "But again Heritage needs a CEO who can come in here and run a $90 million business with 350 employees, who shares our vision and knows how to mobilize staff to keep us dong our best."
But Bannon seemed like a real possibility during a complete messaging blackout. Heritage remained silent and the New York Times had on good authority that Rebekah Mercer, a wealthy heiress and Heritage Foundation board member, was pedaling the resume of the alt-right provocateur.
A number of current and past Heritage Foundation employees texted the Examiner, reacting with a mix of hilarity and horror. Over the weekend, no one knew anything except was being reported.
The co-founder of the Heritage Foundation will remain at the helm for six months while the board finds a new president. It doesn't seem like they'll accept applications filled out in Breitbart's characteristic MDE font.
Feulner has met Bannon before and he was quick to praise the populist's "wonderful, keen strategic thinking" as well as the "amazing things" Bannon achieved at Breitbart. And while they don't know each other well, Feulner knows enough to explain that the board would "say he's just not the right fit for the Heritage Foundation."
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.