Few of his fellow Republicans in the Senate are shedding tears over the sudden resignation of Jim DeMint of South Carolina to head a conservative think tank. They put much of the blame on him for keeping them in the minority.
DeMint, who has been the Tea Party leader in the Senate, has endorsed, promoted and helped fund a number of extremist candidates in states where Republicans were expected to do well but bombed. Those losers not only cost Republicans their own contests but helped bring down other Republicans as well. Most notable are Christine “I am not a witch” O’Donnell in Delaware and Sharon Angel in Nevada two years ago and this year a pair of anti-abortion extremists, Richard Mourdock of Indiana and Todd Akin of Missouri.
But he has also backed some winners, including Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Colorado, Marco Rubio of Florida, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Ted Cruz of Texas.
Only two years into his second term, DeMint, 62, will leave in January to head the Heritage Foundation, which has been a major Republican farm team. Officials of past and future Republican administrations have spent their wilderness years at the well-funded think tank just off Capitol Hill, writing policy papers and pushing their agenda.
He obviously feels he can have greater influence working from the outside, ala anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, and he’s probably right. The ideologically rigid DeMint thinks his party isn’t conservative enough and sees the Heritage job as an opportunity to push it farther to the right.
In a glimpse of what might be in the offing, he hinted on his way out this week that he might support efforts to dump Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for being too willing to compromise with President Obama on the economic standoff. Maybe he has in mind backing his House tea party counterpart, Majority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia
Even his fellow Senate Republicans have privately complained about his uncompromising obstructionism. He has been one of the most polarizing figures in an institution already highly polarized, but his departure, as welcome as it may be on both sides of the aisle, is unlikely to solve that problem.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said she won’t appoint herself to the seat but will pick someone just as conservative as DeMint. Speculation is she will name Rep. Tim Scott, a freshman from Charleston. That would make him the first black Republican to represent his state since Reconstruction, and whether he gets the appointment or not, he will be the only black Republican in the 113th Congress in either chamber.
DeMint’s successor will serve until a special election is held 23 months from now to fill the final two years of DeMint’s term.