Jim DeMint’s sudden resignation from the Senate to head up the Heritage Foundation makes a lot of sense for him (the preeminent position at one of, if not the, most preeminent conservative think tanks, his to enjoy for perhaps decades) and a lot of sense for the organization.
But there’s reason for a lot of conservatives to feel disappointed. There’s been an accusation – sometimes fair, sometimes not – that some conservative lawmakers want to take a pure and uncompromising stance, but who prefer to do so safely from the metaphorical sidelines. Conservatives complain that they never get one of their own in leadership in the House or Senate, but any conservative who did would run the risk of acknowledging the hard truth of the job: sometimes the best deal you can get is half a loaf. And once you became the guy who negotiated the “half a loaf” deal, you lose your “true conservative” street cred.
I’m hearing some folks say DeMint will be able to fight for his causes better at Heritage than from within the U.S. Senate, and that strikes me as debatable. He’s going from a position where he can influence the writing of legislation to a position where he can influence the writing of white papers. Is he really going to have more success persuading lawmakers as a head of a think tank – even one as respected and well-regarded as Heritage – than as a colleague?
In the meantime, this sets up a free-for-all in the sharp-elbowed world of South Carolina Republican politics, and greatly lessens the chance of a serious conservative challenge to Lindsey Graham.
Governor Nikki Haley is going to have a lot of options to choose from in the coming days or weeks:
Congressman Tim Scott, the only African-American Republican in Congress starting in January 2013. CNN is reporting that DeMint has indicated he would prefer Scott as his successor.
Congressman Mick Mulvaney, a Tea Party favorite who pulled off an upset victory over longtime incumbent Democrat John Spratt in 2010.
Congressman Trey Gowdy, who beat incumbent Bob Inglis in the 2010 primary in his district, who has proven a tenacious fighter on the Judiciary Committee and Government Reform Committee and sometimes feuded with the House Republican leadership.
Former State Attorney General Henry McMaster, a former U.S. Attorney under Ronald Reagan who ran for governor against Haley in 2010 and endorsed her in the runoff.
State Sen. Tom Davis, popular in his Low Country district and once frequently-mentioned as a possible challenger to Graham; surprised some Republicans by backing Ron Paul in the 2012 GOP presidential primary.
State Attorney General Alan Wilson, the son of Rep. Joe Wilson. The younger Wilson was just elected in 2010 to a four-year term, and he may not be eager to leave so soon.
Rep. Joe Wilson has been asked about running for statewide office many times and indicated he’s happy with his role in the House.
Keep in mind that any of the above figured who are not picked as DeMint’s interim successor could very well challenge the picked successor or Graham in the 2014 primaries.
I can’t begrudge DeMint or Heritage this decision, but a lot of headaches are going to flow forth from this…