Senator Jim DeMint has delivered a shock to conservatives with the announcement of his decision to leave the Senate in order to take up the reins as head of the Heritage Foundation. Unquestionably, Heritage is a great organization, and it may need him, and he may do great work there, but I am finding it hard to regard this as good news. DeMint has been one the clearest voices in Congress supporting conservative principles.
Governor Nikki Haley must appoint an interim successor, but a replacement will have to run in the 2014 election, during which Senator Lindsey Graham will also be seeking re-election. Already, conservatives are beginning to call for Rep. Tim Scott to be appointed to the seat, in order to give him a leg up in 2013. Matt K. Lewis in the Daily Caller:
Scott is a proven conservative fighter, who was also elected Chairman of the Freshman Caucus and House Whip. Prior to his election to Congress, he served four terms as Chair in the South Carolina House. Additionally, he was a small business owner.
To be sure, South Carolina has a strong conservative delegation. But Scott is at the top of the list. Conservatives should push for him.
Richard Baehr cautions:
South Carolina is a good state for the GOP, but not certain in open seat elections. . Nikki Haley won the governor's race by about 2%. Romney won by 10%. This might suggest that DeMint has given up on the GOP getting a majority back. It also suggests Heritage Foundation is moving a bit to the right on fiscal policy. DeMint made life difficult for some GOP senate candidates, pushing for more conservative nominees in state primaries, some of whom were unelectable.
Manu Raju and Scott Wong of Politico amplify this assessment of DeMint's impact on the Senate through his support of more conservative candidates in primaries:
In the 2010 cycle, DeMint was an early supporter of Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, whose candidacy effectively sent incumbent moderate Sen. Arlen Specter out of the Republican Party. And as his party was throwing its support behind Gov. Charlie Crist, the moderate Florida governor, DeMint was an enthusiastic backer of Marco Rubio, now a prospective 2016 presidential candidate.
"In eight years, he has personally led the effort to change the composition of the Senate for the better, and provided consistent and principled leadership in the fight for liberty and limited government," Toomey said in a statement. "He will be missed."
But DeMint's record in primaries was decidedly mixed. He gave late support to Christine O'Donnell in Delaware over the moderate Rep. Mike Castle, and O'Donnell's victory in the GOP primary ended up costing his party a seat in the 2010 midterms. He also backed Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican over the establishment favorite Jane Norton in the 2010 primary, but Buck lost to incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet.
DeMint has been unapologetic about his tactics, saying his party needs to return to its conservative roots in order to provide a contrast to voters, rather than caving on core party principles
As conservatives regroup, the political landscape is shifting under our feet.