Just before announcing his departure from the United States Senate, Jim DeMint gave me one last reason to praise him in that job.
He had spent Tuesday morning pointing out the lunacy of “putting revenues on the table,” which by necessity involves the belief that government does not have enough of our money. He advised against Republicans dividing over the issue and “treating the President’s proposal like it’s serious.”
He even delivered a twitter jab to the House leadership: "Speaker Boehner's offer of an $800 billion tax hike will destroy jobs and allow politicians in Washington to spend even more."
For the umpteenth time, clarity and courage from Jim DeMint inspired me and galvanized my belief that this is no time for faint hearts and half-drawn weapons as we fight for the future of our country.
Then what does he do? He takes the exit ramp.
Just as I am praying for more rudders and compasses like his in both houses of Congress, he announces he will leave the Senate in January to become President of the Heritage Foundation.
I love Heritage. I always want them to have the leadership that serves their mission best. But did they have to land one of the most powerful voices in elected conservatism? Was there no one else who could have followed the proud record of Ed Feulner, whose stewardship nurtured Heritage from modest 1970s roots to its current perch of global renown?
I know, I know. The deal is done. Let’s not waste energy with hand-wringing. Let us instead wish all parties well, and make clear what we’d like to see on the path forward.
As Mr. Feulner maintains an important role at Heritage as Chancellor of the Foundation and Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, opinions are filtering in on what the addition of Jim DeMint will mean.
One’s view on this properly hinges tightly on one’s view of the DeMint record. As such, I believe Heritage secures its place in conservative hearts as a think tank that is not to be trifled with, a home for bold, unapologetic conservatism that fearlessly addresses the challenges of the day and gladly informs all comers about the wisdom of limited government, low taxes and a strong foreign policy.
In other words, it embraces the values I want in every Republican member of the Senate and the House, and the attributes I will seek in President Obama’s successor in 2016.
But this is not a unanimous view.
For any who have bristled at the DeMint ideology and style, there is some momentary relief as he departs, and a darker view of what Heritage has done in tapping him.
Blogging from the right for the Washington Post has got to be an interesting gig, and Jennifer Rubin is an interesting woman. I enjoy her writing, agree with most of it, and have enjoyed welcoming her as a guest in my Friday role hosting Bill Bennett’s national radio show.
I noticed that there were voices on the right who viewed her as a major water-carrier for Mitt Romney during his ascendancy. This became a lesser sin the moment he won the nomination, when every Republican adopted a vested interest in seeing him win.
But with the Romney defeat now healing into scar tissue, everyone who led cheers for him on the way up now faces questions about whether he was ever the best standardbearer for the Republican party.
Ms. Rubin in particular has faced questions about the depth of her conservatism. Her Thursday Post piece on DeMint will not calm those critics.
“Good riddance, Mr. DeMint” is the headline of a post which blasts him as a damaging figure long on bellicosity and wholly lacking in legislative achievement.
And slapping DeMint is not enough. Ms. Rubin scolds Heritage for welcoming a new President that will banish them to the marginalized corners of “untempered extremism.”
While Ms. Rubin regrets that Heritage tapped a political leader rather than a “serious scholar,” whatever that is any more, it is clear that her hackles are raised most by DeMint’s views and tactics.
I expect she has company. DeMint has caused many a headache on the left, and a few on the right, where he has shown little patience for Republicans seeking to cut deals with the left in a search for “common ground.”
But that is why I loved him in the Senate.
To me, the Democrats are not offering $20,000 for my car priced at $24,000, so you meet at $22,000.
Democrats are your brother-in-law with a gambling problem. He asked for you 500 dollars and you gave it to him. He asked you for five thousand and you gave it to him. He has squandered it and now he is back, asking for twenty grand.
You don’t meet in the middle. You tell him no and suggest he get his act together.
The Republicans seeking to curry favor with moderates or the press or the countless young women or people of color we will need in 2014, 2016 and beyond, are enablers.
What we need are messengers with boundless energy, willing to explain why lower taxes-- even on the “wealthy”-- are good for everyone, why small government is good for everyone, and why our way forward will save America as a land of opportunity and liberty.
That is hard work. Jim DeMint was the voice of that work ethic in the Senate. My own state of Texas has sent Ted Cruz to pull some of that weight, as will Kentucky’s Rand Paul, Utah’s Mike Lee, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey and any others willing to see that this is a battle for the future of America, not a conversational interlude along history’s highway.
It is to the Heritage Foundation’s credit that they have added DeMint’s name to their leadership legacy. All of us inspired by his fearless grasp of the stakes in our national crisis will miss him profoundly in government, and wish him well in the private sector he has fought so hard to protect.
So who will succeed him? There is substantial buzz around South Carolina congressman Tim Scott, whose plus side is huge, including a close friendship with DeMint himself.
A tax and spending cutter. An Obamacare repealer. A pro-life, pro-business voice unafraid to warn that our hasty exits from Iraq and Afghanistan are a gift to al Qaeda.
And he is black, which will drive liberals crazy. How do you not love this man?
But as the party that cares about ideas and heart without regard to race, our support of Scott should be based purely on the agenda he brings to the table. Look for Gov. Nikki Haley to feel a strong push to name him to fill the interim seat until a special election in 2014. If she does not opt for him, it had better be someone of similar passions.
Every move Republicans make should be a part of a master plan to address America with the heart of a teacher, eager to explain why we do what we do, and how it benefits Americans of every race and income.
Jim DeMint’s refusal to cave to the pressures of appeasement is a badge of honor he can wear forever. The Senate’s loss is the Heritage Foundation’s gain. Let us hope that Heritage can continue as a strong voice for conservatism, and that a Republican Senate can become one in 2014.