When HUMAN EVENTS profiled Sen. Jim DeMint (R.-S.C.) as a possible Republican vice presidential candidate in ’08, we likened the freshman senator and former advertising man to another small businessman in his first Senate term: Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who became a conservative hero after blasting spending under a Republican President and went on to be a successful chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
DeMint had already carved a niche for himself by breaking with fellow Republican and President George W. Bush over the spending issue (“We lost our way when Bush was elected”) and chairing the Senate Republican Steering Committee, the informal gathering of Senate conservatives.
Two years later, the senator is enjoying a growing reputation a conservative “superstar” and his political action committee has had a particularly successful year. And there is now talk of Jim DeMint as a possible Senate Republican Leader or chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee for 2012.
Having turned 58 last week (September 2), and a shoo-in for re-election, DeMint’s credentials as a national conservative leader on both issues and in politics have burnished brightly in 2010.
During key Senate debates on the Democratic-backed healthcare bill, federal bailouts for banks and other corporations, and cap and trade, the South Carolinian has established himself as one of the premier leaders in the fight against measures backed by the Obama Administration.
Last year, DeMint attracted news attention (and the fury of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs) for meeting with acting Honduran President Roberto Micheletti when the Obama Administration was denouncing the ouster of leftist President Manuel Zelaya. The senator also helped force the Obama appointee to head the Transportation Security Administration to withdraw his nomination and was one of two votes against the confirmation of onetime senate colleague Hillary Clinton to be secretary of State.
Is NRSC or Leadership Spot Next?
This is the third year in a row that the National Journal has ranked DeMint as “the most conservative United States senator.” With a lifetime rating of 100% from the American Conservative Union, DeMint was contrasted in a page one story in the New York Times with his state’s other Republican senator Lindsey Graham (lifetime ACU rating: 88%), who has infuriated fellow Palmetto State Republicans on matters ranging from his support for climate-control legislation to the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.
In terms of national Republican politics, DeMint’s impact is inarguable. Two years after he launched the Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee that backs candidates who are conservatives on both economic and cultural issues, SCF has shown it is unafraid to back conservative swashbucklers who challenge the moderate GOP “establishment” in their respective states. Marco Rubio of Florida, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ken Buck of Colorado all began their bids in Republican Senate primaries as underdogs to more moderate GOPers. All had SCF backing early on, and today all are the Republican nominees for the U.S. Senate.
DeMint’s SCF backed Mike Lee of Utah in a contested primary after incumbent GOP Sen. Robert Bennett was eliminated from the race at the state convention. Lee won a tight race. No sooner had Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski had conceded her primary loss to conservative long-shot Joe Miller, than DeMint and SCF weighed in strongly for the nominee. (SCF did support Assemblyman Chuck DeVore in California and Marvin Stutzman in Indiana in primaries they did not win; Stutzman has since been named to an open nomination for Congress in his state and DeVore is thought to have a bright political future in his; both recall the backing of the DeMint PAC warmly).
Given his level of activity on both the political and issues fronts and the resulting higher profile for Jim DeMint, it is natural to speculate on what he might try to do after November. Assuming Toomey, Lee, Rubio and some of the other conservatives his PAC backed, DeMint could have a strong backing among freshman in a bid for Senate GOP leader or whip, the No. 2 position in the leadership hierarchy. As one of the top ten fundraisers for the NRSC in ’08, DeMint would be a natural for the chairmanship of the campaign arm for Senate Republicans.
When we wrote about him as a prospective vice presidential nominee two years ago, we concluded that “there’s no question that conservatives and the national media will hear more about Jim DeMint in the coming years. In two years, they have—and in the future, they will.