While he is technically the Palmetto State’s junior Senator, Jim DeMint has far more importance within the Senate than many others who have been serving in the chamber for decades. As a result, his abrupt resignation yesterday to serve as President of the Heritage Foundation will have major ramifications as to who heads the conservative movement on Capitol Hill over the next few years.
DeMint’s success over the past eight years is largely the result of his work with his former leadership PAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund, to purify the Republican Party in the the U.S. Senate and bring it back to its core principles of “limited government, strong national defense, and traditional family values.” (DeMint left the PAC earlier this year to launch a spin-off super PAC, Senate Conservatives Action.) According to OpenSecrets.org, nearly $23 million has been raised and spent by the Senate Conservatives Fund on behalf of conservative candidates nationwide.
His impact on making the Republican wing of the Senate was summarized best by RedState founder and editor Erick Erickson, who commented that, “DeMint showed the Republican Party can be challenged from within the party moving it right, not moving with it.”
So it makes sense that many of DeMint’s possible successors in the chamber are in office today as a result of the PAC’s efforts over the past four years.
Among the high profile successors that could take up DeMint’s role as kingmaker is Marco Rubio of Florida. Rubio rise to stardom began at the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference, where he was the keynote speaker. Just a few months later he was able to push then-incumbent Governor Charlie Crist out of the Republican primary and win the Senate seat with 48% of the vote in a three-way race. The Senate Conservatives Fund spent $160K on Rubio’s race.
Rubio released a video statement Thursday in which he commented that DeMint was “the first person in Washington that believed in me and invested in me.” He also called DeMint his best friend in a recent interview with GQ.
Another, yet not as high profile, possible replacement is Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. A former Congressman and head of the Club for Growth, Toomey began his bid for Senate in 2009 against then-Republican Senator Arlen Specter (setting up a rematch of their 2004 nail biting primary). Pressure from the right, including from the Senate Conservatives Fund, forced Specter to switch party affiliations. He was ultimately defeated in the 2010 Democratic primary, and Toomey went on to win the general election. Last April Toomey was named Chair of the Senate Steering Committee, succeeding DeMint in the post.
Toomey tweeted yesterday that DeMint’s “departure will be a huge loss for [the] U.S. Senate & conservative movement.”
Two other possibilities include Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Utah Sen. Mike Lee, both of whom are members of the Senate Tea Party Caucus alongside DeMint.
Paul tweeted yesterday that DeMint would be “missed” in the Senate.
Of course, it could be a combination of them – or none of them at all. But the mantle is now open, and it will be interesting to see who takes the helm.