WASHINGTON: Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who helped ignite the tea party movement, will leave the Senate to become president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group.
DeMint — who has fashioned himself into a bit of a kingmaker for conservative Republicans, often at the expense of his own GOP colleagues — now finds himself with a comfortable and well-paying perch that will provide a platform to continue his efforts to push the Republican Party to the right.
His imminent departure will allow him to advocate even more loudly against a big budget deal that includes higher tax revenues sought by President Barack Obama. He has been among the biggest critics of a deal proffered by House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester, to address the impending fiscal crisis by generating at least $800 billion in new tax revenue.
“I’m leaving the Senate now, but I’m not leaving the fight,” DeMint said in a news release Thursday. “I’ve decided to join the Heritage Foundation at a time when the conservative movement needs strong leadership in the battle of ideas. No organization is better equipped to lead this fight, and I believe my experience in public office as well as in the private sector as a business owner will help Heritage become even more effective in the years to come.”
DeMint will depart the Senate in January. He replaces Edwin Feulner, 71, who will continue part time as chairman of the foundation’s Asian Studies Center.
A hero to many Republicans for his fundraising abilities, DeMint frustrated Senate colleagues by backing Republican candidates like Sharron Angle of Nevada in 2010 and Richard Mourdock of Indiana this year, contenders who proved too conservative to be elected statewide.
The losses by Angle and Mourdock and other candidates endorsed by DeMint hurt Republicans in the past two elections in their efforts to retake the Senate, although he successfully backed conservative candidates in Florida, Texas and Utah.
“The truth is that Jim DeMint’s philosophy on everything from Medicare to women’s reproductive rights, as embodied by his handpicked candidates for Congress, has been rejected by voters,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who headed the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee this year.
The costly Senate defeats, as well as DeMint’s proclivity for gumming up legislation on the floor, stunted his chances for leadership in the Senate, and his influence may well be enhanced from the outside.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, will now be compelled to appoint a successor who would then run to maintain the seat in a special election in 2014, when Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, the senior senator from the state, will also be up for re-election.
Aides said Haley was surprised by DeMint’s sudden announcement.
South Carolina is a small state, politically speaking, and almost every Republican member of the House delegation, many of them close to DeMint politically and personally, are possible fill-ins.
DeMint, “has served South Carolina and the national conservative movement exceptionally well,” Haley said in a news release.
“His voice for freedom and limited government has been a true inspiration. On a personal level, I value Jim’s leadership and friendship. Our state’s loss is the Heritage Foundation’s gain. I wish Jim and Heritage all the best in continuing our shared commitment to America’s greatness.”