Donald Trump’s campaign, transition operation, and presumably the administration to follow have given us all a chance to stretch our minds and contemplate policies and policy-makers we would not have imagined taking over Washington. There is no modern precedent for someone with Stephen Bannon’s background and position on the ideological spectrum holding a top White House position. Attorney general designee Jeff Sessions was famously rejected for a mere district-court judgeship by a Republican-controlled Senate. Trump himself tried to convince the United Kingdom to make the fringe nationalist politician Nigel Farange Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the U.S. — via Twitter, no less! Each day brings new marvels and new perspectives on what we used to regard as normalcy.
A good example is that a man who was once, and not that long ago, the epitome of conservative extremism has become a reassuring éminence grise overlooking the Trump transition.
That would be Heritage Foundation president and former U.S. senator Jim DeMint. Once a lonely crank in the Senate (much like soon-t0-be Attorney General Sessions, as a matter of fact), DeMint became a powerful ideological commissar whose Senate Conservatives Fund helped push the GOP to the right during the early stages of the Obama presidency. Upon leaving the Senate for Heritage in 2013, DeMint turned the venerable right-wing think tank into a powerful force for immoderation via its Heritage Action arm, which vigorously promoted conservative brinkmanship in Congress and around the country.
Up until now it has probably been safe to say that DeMint had turned Heritage into a bulwark of what one might call the Ted Cruz brand of militant movement conservatism. But Heritage’s fingerprints are all over the Trump transition operation, per Politico:
[T]he transition is getting an assist from Heritage Foundation officials including Becky Norton Dunlop, a distinguished fellow at the foundation; former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese, a distinguished fellow emeritus at Heritage; Heritage national security expert James Carafano; and Ed Feulner, who helped found Heritage. Rebekah Mercer, a Heritage board member and major pro-Trump donor, is on the transition team’s 16-member executive committee, and a transition team source said she is working with Heritage to recruit appointees for positions at the undersecretary level and below….
The transition team also includes other prominent activists and thinkers with close ties to Heritage, such as former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the activist involved with several conservative groups who is running Trump’s domestic transition team. He has written for Heritage and has personal relationships with many at the organization.
Heritage’s chummy relationship with Team Trump appears to have been initially brokered by DeMint himself, who met with the mogul soon after his nomination became likely. Even more significant, Heritage worked with the Federalist Society to put together Trump’s list of pre-vetted Supreme Court possibilities, perhaps the single most important step Trump took to keep serious conservatives in his camp.
Heritage also has a long history in the transition biz. It emerged from obscurity in 1980 when it offered the new Reagan administration detailed policy recommendations and vetted countless personnel.
So DeMint’s Heritage is an institution well-suited to “normalize” Trump’s new administration, perhaps especially because it is headed by a pol who once drew some odd looks himself. It’s appropriate that Governor Nikki Haley, a pol who emerged from the “movement conservative” faction of the South Carolina Republican Party headed by DeMint and Mark Sanford, may now serve the same “normalizing” function for Trump at the United Nations.