Depending on what you read, Michael Needham, the 31-year-old CEO of Heritage Foundation's Action arm, is the best or the worst thing to happen to conservative politics in decades.
In a New Republic article published today, Julia Ioffe makes the case that Needham, who heads the conservative think tank's newish activist branch, is destroying both the Republican party and the Heritage Foundation with his take-no-prisoners, toe-the-party-line-I-created ways. Even Mickey Edwards, a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation and one of the few people to be quoted by name in the article, says "I don't think any thoughtful person is going to take the Heritage Foundation very seriously, because they’ll say, 'How is this any different from the Tea Party?'"
Under Needham, Ioffe says, Heritage Action amassed an army of "sentinels" ("ordinary citizens with a surplus of time and enthusiasm") who then organized local conservative constituents, making them ready to attack their representative's office with angry phone calls, emails and letters at a moment's notice should said representative run afoul of Heritage Action's ideological scorecard.
Many Republicans, who felt less than certain about the defund [Obamacare] strategy, felt entrapped, especially when these angry constituents confronted them at town halls.
On issue after issue, Needham’s ideological flame-throwing has made Heritage Action enemies in even the most conservative corners of Congress. Says the House GOP aide, “People on the Hill are very much rubbed the wrong way by a former Giuliani staffer who is around thirty years old, running around and determining whether they’re conservative or not.”
When Heritage Action's big push to defund Obamacare at any cost resulted in a 16-day government shutdown and some of the worst poll numbers the GOP has ever seen, Needham simply backpedaled and claimed he was pushing to repeal the law in 2017 all along.
And yet Needham’s blithe remark came as no surprise to the former veteran staffer at the Heritage Foundation. “One of the hallmarks of that millennial profile is an inability to acknowledge mistakes,” the staffer said, sounding equal parts bemused and exasperated. “Everything is right and nothing was a mistake, and they can spin it any way they want.”
So, while it might have been a septuagenarian (former Heritage Foundation CEO Ed Feulner) who put Needham at the head of Heritage Action and a sexagenarian (current Heritage Foundation CEO Jim DeMint) who is keeping him there, it's a Millennial's inability to admit he was wrong that's to blame.