The trouble with losing Jim DeMint
Jim Geraghty at National Review begs our pardon for not being “relentlessly upbeat about Thursday’s big news,” meaning the resignation of Senator Jim DeMint to become president of the Heritage Foundation:
Two years into a six year term, DeMint decided there was nothing going on in the Senate worth sticking around for, at least in the near future – another four years of President Obama, another two to four years of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. No conservative reform likely to be enacted, no likely prospect of constructive compromise, nothing likely to get done. That is some depressing stuff there, brother.
We have a movement full of people who love their country and who are terrified of the course that it continues to careen along. We go to them, and we ask them for their votes, for their time, and for their money. And they give all of those. One of the things we have asked them to do is help elect lawmakers like Jim DeMint . . .
. . . and then DeMint sees something he wants to do more than serve in the Senate and suddenly he leaves without warning. And he does it right after our movement feels like it’s been kicked in the teeth by the electorate.
I mean, if Jim DeMint doesn’t see any point to remaining in the Senate for the next few years . . . why should we be so focused on the Senate ourselves?
Geraghy also mentions DeMint’s track record of supporting conservative Senate nominees such as Marco Rubio and Pat Toomey, and the way he was able to lend political strength to “some other lawmakers who might have been less politically secure, less able to take strong stands in less heavily-Republican states.” Those are assets that don’t transfer readily to even the most high-profile private sector position.
One other problem is that while DeMint has vowed to use his voice to strengthen conservatism, and he’s bound to be influential in that capacity, the real problem at the moment is not a shortage of effective conservative voices in think-tanks and the media. More are always welcome, of course. But the conservative intellectual system has been generating excellent product for many years now, including the Heritage Foundation under DeMint’s predecessor.
A more serious problem, which DeMint’s departure from the Senate could make worse, is the tenuous connection between conservatism and the Republican Party. Conservatives have lacked the political influence to implement their ideas, even in years when the Republican Party was doing fairly well. Considering the heavy slant of the mainstream media and popular culture to the Left, conservatives do a very good job of communicating their core ideas to the public; many of those ideas fare very well in opinion polls. The problem is that the public does not fully associate those ideas with the GOP. In fact, during the last election, the public was willing to let Barack Obama and the Democrats poach some conservative principles, in part because the Republicans weren’t fighting tooth and nail to protect their ownership. A sizable number of people told pollsters they thought Obama would be a better steward of private sector growth and personal liberty. Quite a few even said they thought Obama was more likely to lower taxes.
One of the most severe political problems for conservatives is that they’re perpetually scapegoated for public ills, even though it’s been decades since their big ideas were given serious application. The one thing nobody in either the Republican or Democrat parties seems interested in seriously discussing at the moment is what we know, from the study of history, would work to pull us away from the fiscal cliff: lower taxes, economic growth, and aggressive reduction of the size of government. The champions of those beliefs are lucky if they don’t get booted off their committees by the Republican leadership.
A stronger conservative movement is always desirable. A more conservative Republican Party is the more pressing need, especially if we mean to defuse the pressure building for a disastrous third-party separation, or masses of conservative voters simply retreating into their bunkers to await the collapse of a government they no longer believe they can seriously influence. Jim DeMint’s journey to the Heritage Foundation will surely benefit the cause of intellectual conservatism… but at what cost to its practical application?