Moore's conservative bonafides are real. But he's also been outspoken on several issues, particularly immigration, where he's directly clashed with the new Heritage status quo. A 1997 piece that he wrote for the Cato Institute, for example, directly contradicts part of last year's controversial Heritage report on the financial burden of immigrants to taxpayers.
For his part, Moore told TPM this week that he believes he can bring an "additional respectability" to Heritage's output. He'll be overseeing his own separate research center within Heritage, which should be announced in the next few weeks, where he said he'll have significant autonomy to conduct his own research on regulatory and fiscal issues.
"I don't agree 100 percent with everything that Heritage has done or said," Moore said. "One of my big goals is to continue to ensure that the advocacy is really based on the soundest economic research, to ensure that the credibility is there in everything that's produced here."
Outsider observers in the conservative sphere were emphatic: Moore's hiring could be a turning point for Heritage, both in general and particularly on immigration, this Congress's best shot -- however remote -- to leave a meaningful legislative mark.
Alex Nowrasteh, immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank, who has called the Senate-passed immigration bill "a solid improvement over the current immigration system," told TPM that Moore's presence "bodes very well for an ideological policy shift" at Heritage. He compared the move to House Speaker John Boehner hiring the top immigration analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center to his staff in December, which reform advocates also viewed as a potential turning of the tide on the issue.
"It absolutely portends a change over there at the Heritage Foundation," he said. "Talk in D.C. is very cheap, but when people start shifting their staffs that shows they're aligning with a different position, that actually means something."
"Steve Moore going to Heritage reflects a return to normality."
Moore's hiring also earned the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is a key component of the tenuous business-labor alliance that was the lynchpin for the bipartisan support for the Senate-passed immigration reform bill. The Chamber has been actively urging conservatives in the House to move on the bill.
“I’ve known Steve for a long time. He is a smart guy and Heritage is lucky to have him," Randy Johnson, senior vice president of labor, immigration, and employee benefits at the Chamber, said in a statement to TPM.
Moore himself wasn't ready to declare that his presence would result in a dramatic overhaul of Heritage's position on immigration. "We'll see," he said, when asked if a significant refinement should be expected. He acknowledged that the question of undocumented immigrants already in the country remained a difficult one for the conservative base, without an obvious solution in his eyes, and expressed skepticism about the comprehensive bill that passed the Senate last year, comparing it unfavorably to Obamacare. That leaves the House-preferred approach of a series of piecemeal bills as the more viable option.
But Moore also re-emphasized his pro-immigration stance and pledged to work at Heritage to develop a "pro-growth" immigration policy. If that work leads to a change in Heritage's position, Cato's Nowrasteh said the resulting impact would be "titanic."
"What I'm going to try to work with Heritage on is developing a pro-growth immigration solution. I hope to help fashion a pro-immigration position," Moore said. "I've said that I think immigration is so key to our future economy, and to the extent that Heritage can be instrumental in making sure we're getting the highest quality immigrants, that is really an essential component of our economy."
To be clear, Moore's homecoming won't send Heritage rushing to embrace the Senate bill, as he acknowledged. And the politics of the moment require even ardent opponents of immigration reform to couch their opposition carefully in pro-reform language. But Moore's stated openness to exploring common ground on immigration is the first sign of light from DeMint's conservative empire, an abrupt turn from the ideological intransigence that had become the norm.
Photo: Sean Hackbarth/Flickr