Jim DeMint has decided that he's better off preaching to the choir.
Which is probably a good move, because a lot of folks in the congregation were getting tired of him.
South Carolina's junior senator announced Thursday that he was resigning his seat to take a job as leader of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
The folks there will fawn over him, hang on his every word and probably convince him that he would make a fine president.
That might be what DeMint wants to hear, and it's a decidedly better future than he faced in the Senate.
For the past few years, DeMint has tried to pack the Senate with like-minded ultra-conservatives who seemed to be opposed to just about everything. If his gambit had worked, he might have been looking at some sort of leadership post.
But as it is, Senate Republicans go into 2013 firmly in the minority, and many of them blame DeMint for some of that.
Jim vs. GOP
Not so long ago, people called DeMint a kingmaker.
He was supporting tea party candidates for Senate seats and winning them left and far right. In 2010, several Republican Party establishment candidates were soundly trounced in GOP primaries by DeMint proteges.
The problem is that many of those people could not win in a general election. There is no doubt that DeMint cost the party a few seats.
The guy who once said he rather would have 30 rock-solid conservative senators than a super-majority of moderate Republicans seemed more likely to achieve the former. And that was unacceptable to the national Republican Party.
Perhaps as a result of criticism he got for his 2010 losses (in fairness, he got a few wins too), DeMint stayed out of the 2012 races. But still he went to Missouri to campaign for Todd Akin, the knucklehead who said women rarely get pregnant from “legitimate rape.”
That show of support did nothing to help DeMint's brand among party officials.
Bottom line: The Republicans were sick of taking friendly fire from DeMint.
And DeMint could not have relished the idea of walking back into a caucus that, at best, eyes him warily.
Going — for now
State Republicans have mixed feeling about DeMint.
Many party officials love him because he is a slam-dunk on the ballot in this state. Conservative voters think he's the greatest thing since Ronald Reagan.
But other Republican officials who had to work with DeMint aren't crying over his departure. One ranking GOP official said Gov. Nikki Haley probably couldn't appoint anyone less protective of South Carolina's interests.
A prime example of that was DeMint blocking an earmark that would have paid for a study to dredge Charleston Harbor. His own party needed an assist from President Barack Obama to get this state's biggest economic generator back on track.
That made an impression. One Republican said that it's one thing to stick to your ideals, but senators have to govern.
And that was something that DeMint was not extremely interested in.
So now he can go do something much more appealing — espouse big ideas, promote candidates at will and make something around $1 million a year.
Some South Carolina politicians say DeMint likes attention too much to move into the relative obscurity that you get as head of a think tank (compared with the constant adulation heaped on U.S. senators). They say this is the first step toward something bigger.
And the only thing bigger than U.S. senator is president.
The trouble is that DeMint's politics don't play well nationally, or in his own party. Neither does quitting — just ask Sarah Palin.
But DeMint probably won't get that sort of unbiased analysis from the choir. So, much to the chagrin of liberals, and some Republicans, this won't be the last you hear from Jim DeMint.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org or read his blog at blog.post andcourier.com/brians-blog.
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