South Carolina senator Jim DeMint announced Thursday morning that he will be leaving the Senate in January to run conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation.
Although he said in a statement that “I’m leaving the Senate now, but I’m not leaving the fight,” adding that “the conservative movement needs strong leadership in the battle of ideas,” his departure from the Senate could be a significant blow to the right wing. DeMint, who holds extreme far-right positions on virtually all social and fiscal issues, has been the unofficial Senate leader of the Tea Party. As founder of the Senate Conservatives Fund, he has helped nominate far-right candidates in several Senate races, and has not been afraid to break with party leadership in primary battles. While some DeMint-backed candidates (like Marco Rubio and Rand Paul) won their elections and helped swing the Republican caucus to the right, others (like Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell) blew winnable elections for the GOP — helping Democrats maintain their majority.
Between his extreme rhetoric and his flat rejection of ideological dissent within his caucus, DeMint is in many ways the perfect embodiment of the modern Republican Party. Despite his laughable claim that he left the Senate “a better place” than he found it — as Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski points out, the American public disagrees — in truth, his legacy is better summed up by New York senator Chuck Schumer: “Certainly his effect on the political system may have been more beneficial to Democrats than Republicans.”
For DeMint, the move to The Heritage Foundation represents the closing of a full circle with regards to the issue that made him and the Tea Party a household name: Obamacare. Although he famously declared in 2009 that “this health care issue Is D-Day for freedom in America,” and that defeating the law would be Obama’s “Waterloo,” the senator was actually for individual mandates before he was against them. Back in 2007, DeMint praised the mandate in Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care law for “making freedom work for everyone.”
His new job will be a return to those roots; after all, the individual mandate was originally developed in 1989 by Heritage Foundation health care expert Stuart Butler.
Of course, just like DeMint, the Foundation now believes that the law “must be repealed.” In fact, if Heritage Action for America’s post-campaign video dramatically declaring war against President Obama is any indication of the Foundation’s priorities, then DeMint’s hyper-partisan brand of politics is a perfect fit for the think tank.
Heritage may be a perfect fit for DeMint, as well. Despite winning huge headlines as a senator, his actual legislative record is close to nonexistent. Additionally, as Kaczynski notes in Buzzfeed, DeMint is currently one of the poorest members of the Senate; his new job represents a significant pay raise, and if he plays his cards right — perhaps following Dick Armey’s example at FreedomWorks — then DeMint’s work in the right-wing private sector could set him up for life.
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