Earlier this year, when Eric Lipton and Brooke Williams wrote an article in the New York Times article on the think tank community and its increasingly lobbying-centric priorities, you would have been forgiven for thinking that a firestorm of criticism from the public would be the industry’s biggest problem. After all, these organizations, of which there are 397 distinct entities, are non-profit and all donations are tax-deductible. The idea that the nation’s biggest economic actors, such as the defense industry and big banks, could control its trusted experts and policy advisors with earmarked donations is scandalous. Instead, they are facing an even starker fate than scandal: irrelevance.
On November 9th, the overall feeling inside the offices of these institutions could not have been a cheery one. Hilary Clinton formally conceded the election to her opponent, Donald Trump, an outsider who has left no room for interpretation on how highly he values the experience and knowledge of the members of these organizations. None of them have been named as advisors to his campaign, none are being predicted as members of his cabinet, and none few are chosen to help his transition team. One exception is the Heritage Foundation, whose vice-president was tapped to lead the transition in the State Department. Another is the Competitive Enterprise Institute, where a member was tapped to lead the transition in the Environmental Protection Agency. However, the vast majority of think tanks are reaping what they have sown by opposing the President-Elect during the campaign.
This is not to say that they will lose out entirely. There are a lot of political appointee positions to fill and relatively few Trump staffers with first dibs on those jobs. There have also been some reconciliatory moves by the President-Elect, such as considering former critic Mitt Romney for the Secretary of State position. Finally, most of the Beltway establishment has changed gears to: “If Trump Succeeds, America Succeeds”, after opposing him in the election. If rosier climates come, maybe think tanks can claw back some influence. For now, they are discredited and disenfranchised.