Former South Carolina Republican senator Jim DeMint lashed "establishment Republicans" in a Thursday night speech, blaming party leaders for failing to apply the lessons of the 2010 wave election during the 2012 cycle.

"In 2012, with the presidential election on the line, national Republican leadership rejected the lessons of 2010 and went back the old way of campaigning," DeMint said in an evening address at the Conservative Political Action Conference. "Millions of dollars of negative television advertising telling Americans all the bad things about President Obama. They didn't even try to inspire America with a bold, positive vision."

DeMint, who is no stranger to irking the establishment wing of the GOP, added: "Republicans didn't lead in 2010, conservatives did."

The South Carolinian, who resigned from the Senate earlier this year to head the conservative Heritage Foundation, said conservatives shouldn't give up on repealing Obama's health-care reform law and and declared a hard line on immigration.

"Granting citizenship to those that came here illegally violates the basic principles of freedom," he said.

DeMint likened the conservative movement to a boxer who had been knocked down  several times before being saved by the bell, but was on the verge of a comeback.

"Tonight, you're the boxer and I'm the manager, and I'm here to tell you how we have President Obama, the liberal progressive movement, right where we want them," he said.

Americans must pressure lawmakers from the outside, argued DeMint, who referred to his move from the Senate to the Heritage Foundation as a promotion.

"The president and the Congress will not solve America's problems unless Americans make them solve the problems," he said.