The lobbying arm of conservative think tank Heritage Foundation is credited with helping to direct the GOP-push to shut down the government over Obamacare. But with the government reopened and the GOP having little to show for it, some Republicans wonder if Heritage overplayed its hand.
"Heritage used to be the conservative organization helping Republicans and helping conservatives and helping us to be able to have the best intellectual conservative ideas," longtime GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch said on Thursday's The Daily Rundown. "There’s a real question in the minds of many Republicans right now, and I’m not just speaking for myself: Is Heritage going to go so political that it really doesn’t amount to anything anymore."
"I hope not," Hatch lamented. "I’m going to try to help it survive and do well, but right now I think it’s in danger of losing its clout and its power around Washington, D.C."
After Wednesday night's last-minute vote to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling, a number of conservative groups, including the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, immediately began criticizing Republicans who voted in favor of the bipartisan compromise as traitors and threatened to work against their re-election.
But the Utah Republican pointed fingers specifically at Heritage Action that's taken on an overtly political tone after former Sen. Jim DeMint, a conservative rabble rouser in the Senate, stepped down last year to become the president of the Heritage Foundation. He suggested that those conservatives attacking other GOPers were risking their credibility but also fueling primary challengers.
"The right is a multiplicity of various groups, some of which aren’t even Republicans, but who think they can control the Republican Party. And some of which have been good think tanks in the past but are now losing their reputation because of some of this radicalness," said Hatch.
Hatch, who himself survived a primary challenge from the right in 2012, had both empathy and praise for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in leading the deal, possibly to his own peril. With the Kentucky Republican facing both a primary and general election fight, he drew the ire of both sides by working with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to finally reach a compromise after 16 days.
"McConnell is a terrific leader," said Hatch. "There’s nobody who’s been any better than McConnell. He’s good, he’s tough, he’s smart, he knows what he’s doing and I’m telling you something -- this has been tough for him."
Sarah Blackwill contributed to this report.