Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) won't be a senator much longer. (Melina Mara/Washington Post)
 File: Jim DeMint (Melina Mara/Washington Post)

Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint showed his gentle side during his speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee Saturday, warning attendees that left unchecked, the government would destroy everything they hold dear, even love.

“When power is taken from individuals…and concentrated in Washington, the fundamental building blocks of our public service and public affection crumbles,” he said. “And so government dependence replaces community support and self-reliance. Handouts replace hand-ups.  Resentment replaces love of country.”

While the tone of his speech was soft, his treatment of congressional Republicans over the past year has been anything but – an approach that has been cheered by conservatives frustrated with the Republican establishment.

The former Republican senator from South Carolina has spent his first year as chairman of the conservative think tank using the platform to ratchet up the pressure on Republican lawmakers who he believes stray from a conservative path.

Heritage Action, the lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation, has derailed more than one Republican leadership attempt to pass legislation that the organization has deemed unacceptable.

“This idea of compromise which has guided the conservative movement for the last 30 years has been a failed effort,” said Joe Miller, a candidate for Senate in Alaska who has received DeMint’s support in the past. “The tack to take is not the compromise tack that has been taken. You have to be confrontational and demand that those that get elected on the platform of conservatism that they remain true to those ideals.”

In his speech, DeMint took aim at Congress and the current political system as contributing to the breakdown between Americans and their representative government.

“None of us here today have fallen out of love with the America Dream, American ideals,” he said. “But most of us have fallen out of love with a political system that favors special interests over the common man. A broken system that is tearing down the America we love.”

During his tenure in the Senate, DeMint was a frequent agitator in Republican ranks. His role at the influential conservative think tank has given him ability to turn that agitation into a large-scale effort to shape the conservative message.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich said DeMint’s selection, as the chairman of Heritage last year was a “deliberate choice” by the board.

“It was part of why the board brought DeMint in, to have somebody to have somebody be more immediately aggressive, including being aggressive among Republicans,” he said. “They obviously believe that a very intense grassroots activism is their role.”

In an interview before his speech, DeMint said he has seen more support for his efforts since leaving his Senate seat.

“I think being outside of the political framework, not under the Republican label but under the conservative label, in this group they feel like we are helping them lead the movement,” he said. “It’s not power that I’m looking for, it’s really to influencing Americans to unite around some core ideas.”