Jim DeMint leaves the Senate to lead the Heritage Foundation

Jim DeMint

There is a lot of hullabaloo today in the conservative movement. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), perhaps the most conservative member of the Senate, has resigned his seat this morning to succeed Ed Fuelner as President of the Heritage Foundation, the leading conservative think tank:

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has resigned from the Senate to take over the conservative Heritage Foundation.

DeMint’s decision to leave the Senate after only eight years shocked Washington. DeMint had been seen as a future Senate leader for his party and was already a leader to a growing number of conservatives in the House and Senate.

“It’s been an honor to serve the people of South Carolina in the United States Senate for the past eight years, but now it’s time for me to pass the torch to someone else and take on a new role in the fight for America’s future,” DeMint said in a statement explaining his resignation.

“I’m leaving the Senate now, but I’m not leaving the fight. I’ve decided to join the Heritage Foundation at a time when the conservative movement needs strong leadership in the battle of ideas. No organization is better equipped to lead this fight and I believe my experience in public office as well as in the private sector as a business owner will help Heritage become even more effective in the years to come.”

The Wall Street Journal had reported that DeMint’s resignation wouldn’t take effect until January; however, it appears that it is immediate. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will appoint a successor, and there is already specualtion that she could choose herself. Whoever she appoints will have to run in 2014 — the same year as Sen. Lindsey Graham, who may face a primary challenge — to fill out the remainder of DeMint’s term.

While one would think that this new wouldn’t be well-received by conservatives given that DeMint was such a strong voice on fiscal issues in the Senate, especially in the debate over the so-called “fiscal cliff,” the reaction has been incredibly upbeat. Many conservatives believe that DeMint will be a more effective leader working from the outside.

Over at RedState, Erick Erickson writes:

While my initial reaction was one of sadness that we are losing the clearest voice in the Senate for conservatives, the upside on Jim DeMint’s departure from the Senate is mind boggling. Mitch McConnell likes it when people compare McConnell to Darth Vader, seemingly clueless that Vader lost the Death Star twice to a rag tag group of rebels in really beat up, hand-me-down spaceships.

If McConnell smiles at hearing the news Jim DeMint is leaving the Senate, he should remember Obi Wan Kenobi telling him … errrr … Darth Vader, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” Jim DeMint’s power in the conservative movement just grew exponentially. A man who was going to retire in four years anyway, will now be leading the conservative movement from its base of operations for years to come.
The more I think about it, the more I think this is a great thing. Just yesterday, John Hayward noted Jim DeMint may just be the leader of the resistance within the GOP on the fiscal cliff deal. But DeMint has replenished the bench of conservatives within the Senate. As long as he remains there, the new conservatives will be in his shadow.

Jim DeMint is, like Ed Feulner, not indispensable. But his ideas are. It is time for the tea party senators he brought to the Senate to stretch their legs and prove they are Jim DeMint’s ideological heirs. In the meantime, he will be on the outside providing them the support and intellectual ammunition they need.

Will the strongest voice on fiscal issues leaving the Senate ultimately be a good thing for the conservative movement? Time will tell, but my initial reaction is that DeMint bailing right now isn’t a good thing. He kept McConnell and the rest of the Republican establishment accountable. It does, however, provide someone like Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who is very much in the mold of DeMint, with the opportunity to raise his profile.

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