Dylan Scott reports on a staffing change at the Heritage Foundation that may signal greater moderation on Talking Points Memo.
2013 wasn’t exactly been a banner year for the Heritage Foundation, Washington’s most well-known and influential conservative think tank.
In its first year under former senator and tea party godfather Jim DeMint, there was a growing consensus — and concern — that the foundation once renowned for its intellectual rigor might now be more of a political advocacy outlet than a home for scholarly research, albeit of the conservative variety.
Heritage saw a study on the supposed cost of immigration reform blasted by those within its own ideological sphere as methodologically shoddy. One of its authors was forced to resigned after revelations of anti-immigrant views in his earlier work surfaced. Its Obamacare research has come under scrutiny for its inherent bias, as TPM has reported. Those unforced slip-ups, and its advocacy arm’s growing reputation as a bully toward any kind of moderation, have started to call the foundation’s reputation into question on Capitol Hill. Conservatives lamented to the New Republic that Heritage had become a political action group “with a research division,” burning bridges with the House GOP, something totally foreign to “the gold standard of conservative, forward-looking thought” that it used to be. The foundation’s $82 million budget was reportedly being scaled back, with more money flowing to the advocacy efforts that have so chafed Hill Republicans.
That’s why Heritage’s most recent hire could mark a potential return to normalcy and respectability for the foundation.
The new man is Stephen Moore, most recently of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, who is joining Heritage as its chief economist. He has previously worked at Heritage in the 1980’s, the Cato Institute, and Club for Growth before spending the last nine years at the Journal. Moore’s conservative bonafides are real. But he’s also been outspoken on several issues, particularly immigration, where he’s directly clashed with the new Heritage status quo. A 1997 piece that he wrote for the Cato Institute, for example, directly contradicts part of last year’s controversial Heritage report on the financial burden of immigrants to taxpayers.
Alex Nowrasteh, immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank, who has called the Senate-passed immigration bill “a solid improvement over the current immigration system,” told TPM that Moore’s presence “bodes very well for an ideological policy shift” at Heritage. He compared the move to House Speaker John Boehner hiring the top immigration analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center to his staff in December, which reform advocates also viewed as a potential turning of the tide on the issue.
“It absolutely portends a change over there at the Heritage Foundation,” he said. “Talk in D.C. is very cheap, but when people start shifting their staffs that shows they’re aligning with a different position, that actually means something. Steve Moore going to Heritage reflects a return to normality.”
Cross-posted from The Sensible Center