Heritage President Ed Feulner, left, announces that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), center, will replace him as president in April as Chairman Tom Saunders looks on. Photo: Shealah Craighead

Heritage President Ed Feulner, left, announces Thursday that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), center, will replace him as president in April. Heritage Board Chairman Tom Saunders looks on. Photo: Shealah Craighead

Ed Feulner has spent his entire career building and strengthening the conservative movement. He helped found Heritage in 1973 and has served as its president for the last 35 years.

During his tenure, Heritage has remained an enduring fixture for conservative ideas, growing from a small upstart organization to a permanent voice for principle in Washington. As he prepares to hand over Heritage’s presidency to Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) in April, Feulner explains this success in an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Dan Henninger (link for subscribers only).

Heritage’s success results in part from a continued optimism: a belief that America’s best days are ahead of her, that conservative principles can prevail. Feulner explains that conservatives have faced reversals in the past and bounced back stronger. And whether conservatives’ political fortunes are waxing or waning, Heritage has remained in the fight.

“We’re in this thing for the long haul,” Feulner tells Henninger.

In addition, Heritage thrives because of its commitment to factual research to complement its principled policy proposals, Feulner argues:

In fact, the Heritage Backgrounders were go-to documents for people of any political stripe writing about policy because their front end was always a straight, serious summary of the facts in play. The policy position was appended at the end. Heritage’s Backgrounders became one of the few places in Washington one could get a simple set of facts.

Ed Feulner is proud of that: “The late Bill Raspberry”—a liberal Washington Post columnist—”once said to me, ‘The neat thing about Heritage is I know I can rely on the facts, then you come to the last page and I rip that off.’ But sometimes Bill Raspberry forgot to rip off the final page, because he came out and favored school choice.”

In Mr. Feulner’s mind, factual accuracy was part of marketing: “The numbers have to work because if you give this to a committee chairman, and if it turns out your numbers aren’t right, you’ve let them down and they’re sure not gonna be relying on you in the future.”

Moreover, Heritage’s decision to establish a broad membership base–now numbering in the hundreds of thousands–allows the organization both financial security and the ability to remain independent of any one supporter.

What do you think makes Heritage successful? Tell us in the comments.

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