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True North Moves in The Right Direction

Main Street conservatives have a friend in Kevin Roberts, the new president of the Heritage Foundation

Newly named Heritage President Kevin Roberts (Texas Public Policy Foundation)

When I was an intern at the Heritage Foundation in 2019, the program leaders and scholars who would address our intern class during luncheons would often talk about “true north,” the guiding principles of conservatism that inform how the Heritage Foundation goes about helping form policy. Say what you will about the Heritage Foundation and some of its stances—I would likely agree with many of your critiques—today I can report that true north has moved in the right direction.

The Heritage Foundation has chosen Kevin Roberts, the chief executive officer of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, to be the successor to Kay Coles James as Heritage president. In a statement released by the Heritage Foundation, Barb Van Andel-Gaby, chairman of Heritage’s Board of Trustees, said, “After looking at candidates from across the country and throughout the conservative movement, one person truly stood out: Heritage’s trustees have unanimously elected Dr. Kevin Roberts as our next president.” 

While there were many outstanding candidates we interviewed during the search process, Kevin was the best choice to lead The Heritage Foundation at this pivotal time in our nation’s history. Kevin has an entrepreneurial spirit and a deep enthusiasm for conservative solutions, and he will bring with him a different perspective as a D.C. outsider… He will ensure that our unprecedented influence on Capitol Hill continues, and he shares our belief that Heritage must lead not only conservatives—but America—with a positive vision for the future.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to lead The Heritage Foundation and honored the board selected me as its next president,” Roberts said in the announcement.

Heritage is known throughout the conservative movement and policy community as a solutions factory. As a lifelong, movement conservative, I have always seen Heritage as the beacon of conservatism and of the American dream. In recent years, as I have worked with Heritage scholars on several issues, I came to appreciate Heritage’s critical role at this particular point in history. Coming from a state as free and prosperous as Texas, I’m eager to share the innovative ideas we developed and build on them.

For months, members of the media reported a who’s who of big names in Conservative Inc. that could be chosen to fill James’ shoes, from former Vice President Mike Pence to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia. It would have been easy for the Heritage Foundation to pull a former Trump administration name out of a hat in order to try and get into the good graces of what some call the “new right,” while offering little institutional or outlook change.

In choosing Roberts, Heritage decided not to do that, which deserves to be commended. Roberts doesn’t just talk the talk; he walks the walk. In a recent appearance on American Moment’s “Moment of Truth” podcast, Roberts said that the process of education, properly understood, “cultivates in each student a desire to be free. Not freedom as is commonly defined—the freedom to do whatever the heck we want—but the freedom to do what we ought.” Prior to heading the TPPF, Roberts was the president of Wyoming Catholic College from 2013 to 2016. The New York Timesdescribed the school as a college for “cowboy Catholics.” Given the Times’ description, this sounds like a great school, but the Times was using the term somewhat pejoratively because of its refusal under Roberts to accept federal student loans and grants. Roberts, who holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Texas, a master’s degree in history from Virginia Tech, and a B.A. in history from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, also started his own K-12 school, the John Paul the Great Academy in Lafayette, Louisiana. Under his tenure, both Wyoming Catholic College and John Paul the Great Academy were among the highest ranked Catholic learning institutions of their kind.

In a live-streamed event last month with Republican Congressman Chip Roy of Texas, Roberts said, “What Trump captured was the absolute irritation, the frustration that Americans have with the elites in Washington who wake up each day trying to tell us what to do.”

Roberts went on to say:

We don’t have enough conservatives, so-called conservatives who are willing to fight for what Trump really personified, which is that the elites have run this country way too long. And you’ve got so much evidence of that in the last couple of weeks, not just the vaccine mandate, but think about the ridiculous, tragic, embarrassing withdrawal from Afghanistan. And you’ve got colleagues in the Republican Party, members of Congress, who won’t even force the president’s hand to have to answer questions about that.

Such talk from a man who would go on to lead the Heritage Foundation was unthinkable just a few years ago. Roberts understands that the disdain for the coastal establishment in heartland America isn’t just a reaction to elite condescension for regular folk. It’s the result of conscious policy decisions—many of which have been pushed by the Heritage Foundation over the years—that have gutted the American way of life. That crucial understanding has led Roberts to strike the right tone when it comes to matters of immigration, industrial policy, and trade.

Saurabh Sharma, the president of American Moment, told The American Conservative, “Those of us who believe the conservative movement and American right must find new and creative ways of fighting the threats to the American family, our national sovereignty, and broad prosperity have a friend in Kevin Roberts. The challenges ahead are steep, but he has the dexterity and force of will to meet them.”

It is perfectly fine to still have doubts about whether or not the house fusionism built can transition to something more in line with a national or paleoconservative movement—I have doubts myself, and never thought I’d be writing an article like this for TAC—but when misguided friends make a good decision that can correct their course of action, celebrate it.

about the author

Bradley Devlin is a Staff Reporter for The American Conservative. Previously, he was an Analysis Reporter for the Daily Caller, and has been published in the Daily Wire and the Daily Signal, among other publications that don't include the word "Daily." He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Political Economy. You can follow Bradley on Twitter @bradleydevlin.

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