The resignation of Jim DeMint from the Senate to lead the Heritage Foundation was an interrupting event. Meaning, I interrupted a meeting my editor was having to tell him the news. The departure of the South Carolina Republican is that big.
DeMint vowed to not run for a third term in 2016. But to leave so soon after being reelected in 2010 took the Capitol and the capital by surprise.
“My constituents know that being a Senator was never going to be my career,” DeMint said in a statement. Yet, he sure made his mark in just eight years. He was never shy about going up against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Most notably, DeMint backed Rand Paul in his 2010 Senate run against Trey Grayson, who was backed by McConnell.
With his Senate Conservatives Fund, DeMint created an alternate power center in the Senate by endorsing candidates he deemed more ideologically pure in their conservatism. In 2010, Ron Johnson (Wis.), Mike Lee (Utah), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Paul won election with DeMint’s backing. In January, Rep. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) will ascend to the Senate with DeMint’s help, as will former Texas solicitor general Ted Cruz and Nebraska state senator Deb Fischer. DeMint was also responsible for characters like Sharron Angle (Nev.) and Christine O’Donnell (Del.), whose wins in their respective Republican primaries in 2010 cost the GOP two potential seats in the Senate.
The destructive nature of DeMint’s alternate power center was summed up in characteristically scorching fashion by my colleague Jennifer Rubin in her “Right Turn” blog.
DeMint has been a destructive force, threatening to primary colleagues, resisting all deals and offering very little in the way of attainable legislation. He has contributed more than any current senator to the dysfunction of that body. He has worsened relations between the House and Senate, as he did in the budget fights in recent years, by meddling and pressuring his home state representative. His departure leaves other senators who seemed impressed with his brand of politics free to find their way to a more constructive position in the body.
As Rubin noted, McConnell issued a gracious statement in reaction to DeMint’s resignation. But no doubt the minority leader is most pleased that he must no longer beware a man who did so much to make his legislative life a living hell.