The central premise of the article is that Republicans are upset because the conservative organization has declared conservatism and Republicans are not the same thing.
The article relies heavily on Mickey Edwards, one of the Heritage Foundation's three founding trustees. Molly Ball, the author of the Atlantic piece, writes:
Mickey Edwards, one of three founding trustees of the Heritage Foundation when it began in 1973, was one of those disturbed by Heritage's turn, which, he told me, “makes it look like just another hack Tea Party kind of group.”
A former eight-term Republican congressman from Oklahoma, Edwards now serves as vice president of the Aspen Institute. “They’re destroying the reputation and credibility of the Heritage Foundation," he added. "I think the respect for their [policy] work has been greatly diminished as a result.”
But Molly Ball and the Atlantic fail to disclose a number of things in their reliance on Mickey Edwards.
Second, Mickey Edwards has grown so liberal that he boycotted CPAC because it let Vice President Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck speak.
Third, Mickey Edwards believes Howard Baker and Bob Dole in the Senate and Bob Michel in the House of Representatives were strong conservatives of principle — something few even inside the Republican Party of the Reagan years would say. Dole and Baker opposed Reagan's election in 1980 and Michel was ultimately undermined by his own Republicans in the House for cutting too many deals with Democrats.
You would think, in the interest of fairness, the Atlantic might note Mickey Edwards' well documented drift to the left. Instead, they use him as the foundation on which to tee off an attack on the Heritage Foundation.
Reading the Atlantic article, it is really clear that the reason Republicans are upset is that the Heritage Foundation has ceased giving them intellectual cover for a drift away from conservatism. It is, in fact, a good thing that ideological ideas and a political party are not joined at the hip. But the Atlantic, Mickey Edwards, and the GOP leadership just don't like it.
It would have at least been helpful if the Atlantic was honest about the central figure around whom it built it's case that the Heritage Foundation "went from the intellectual backbone of the conservative movement to the GOP's bane."