Jim DeMint: Picking Horses Is About More Than Primaries

September 17, 2010 7:50 am

Sen. Jim DeMint says he’d rather be in the minority with a bunch of rock-ribbed conservatives than be part of a ruling group of RINOs. He might just get his chance.

Some Senate Republicans have been privately trashing DeMint, whose track record with his Senate Conservatives Fund endorsing long-shot conservatives in this year’s tough GOP primaries has been better than leadership’s. The argument among some — in very quiet whispers — is that DeMint is not their kind of Republican and his candidates might have blown the GOP’s chances at retaking the Senate this fall.

It only bubbled to the surface in news reports after this week’s stunning Delaware race in which Christine O’Donnell shellacked Rep. Mike Castle, prompting analysts to shift the state back into the Democratic column from the likely Republican pickup it would have been with the far more moderate Castle as the nominee.DeMint (R-SC) is an unapologetic conservative, facing a nominal reelection challenge from a man even the House Majority Whip won’t vote for this fall. He’s the one who said health care would be Obama’s “Waterloo,” and who went out on a limb in several Senate primaries to pluck hard-right Republicans from obscurity.

“This is no longer voting for the least-worst on the ballot,” DeMint said this morning at the
Values Voter Summit. (Follow our coverage here.) “Washington has treated Americans like they were stupid for too long. November the 2nd you’re gonna see who’s stupid and they’re gonna be out of Washington, and we’ll be in, thank you very much.”

Speaking to a die-hard crowd, it’s not clear if DeMint is speaking about Democrats or those “establishment” Republicans that voters are so sour on this year. Yesterday, DeMint told his supporters in a fundraising message that he “fights attacks from GOP Party Bosses.”

DeMint highlighted GOP aides slamming him anonymously in The Hill in a separate fundraising note for O’Donnell last night. “If on Nov. 3 there are two or three seats in Democratic control that otherwise would have been Republican victories, then that anger will come back up to the surface and there will be consequences,” the aide was quoted as saying.

Following Christine O’Donnell’s historic win on Tuesday, the Washington establishment launched an all out assault against me for supporting this principled candidate. They say she can’t win and that by supporting her, I’ve helped lose the seat for Republicans.

Well, I’ve been in the majority with Republicans who didn’t have principles, and we embarrassed ourselves and lost credibility in front of the country. Frankly, I’m at a point where I’d rather lose fighting for the right cause than win fighting for the wrong cause.

He adds that any “consequences” are moot since he isn’t seeking any committee chairmanships or spending earmarks. “What they will do, however, is continue to insult the American people through cowardly anonymous attacks in the press. It makes no difference. I did not come to Washington to make friends,” wrote DeMint, elected in 2004.

Harsher still:

The dirty little secret in Washington is that the establishment is quietly rooting for Christine to lose so they can continue to peddle their discredited line that conservatives cannot win. They mistakenly believe that a single defeat in Delaware will discredit the work we have done this year …

Strong words that make some Republican strategists cringe. Publicly, it’s one big happy family with diverse viewpoints, of course. And aides insist they believe DeMint when he says he’s got no interest in challenging Republican leader Mitch McConnell for his job in the next Congress.

But several of his compatriots who might win this fall (Rand Paul, Joe Miller and Ken Buck) have signaled they’d be willing to back DeMint over McConnell, especially since the DC establishment preferred other candidates in their respective races.

The fact remains that DeMint’s colleagues recognize that, while he may be popular with the tea party crowd and his own base, he’s not considered a legislator with heft among the Republican Senators who vote for their own leadership team. Even if all of DeMint’s picks win and supported him next year for a new position, there wouldn’t be enough votes to overtake McConnell.

A Senate GOP aide told Roll Call that DeMint seems to be more focused on “purity” than defeating Obama.

Retiring Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) has been one of the few to go on the record, telling Roll Call that what DeMint stands for “may go down swell in South Carolina; it may be wonderful there … [but] the fact of the matter is a lot of this stuff is not that popular.”

A top Republican leadership aide today sounded a note of unity. “Now that the primaries are over, we have common opponents,” the aide told TPM.

But another aide was less charitable.

“There is a dramatic difference between how Senator DeMint is perceived on certain conservative blogs versus how he is viewed within the Senate where legislating is actually a serious business,” the aide said.

The aide added, “That being said, the reports of any type of rift between he and the elected leadership have been greatly exaggerated.”

Indeed, DeMint suggested that the party is “united,” adding there “is no distance” between himself and National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman John Cornyn on the fall, according to Politico.

Politico also quoted an anonymous Republican aide who went after DeMint: “Anyone who writes down that he had a significant impact in that election is smoking crack.”

Democrats aiming to exploit these divisions made hay over a Bloomberg story suggesting DeMint’s goal is “complete gridlock,” with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs tweeting it to 96,000 followers. But turns out, that’s not exactly what DeMint said.

Here’s the graf from the original story:

DeMint doesn’t care. He tells Bloomberg Businessweek his goal for the Senate is “complete gridlock” and that he wants to stop programs that violate his anti-Big Government ideology.

And here’s the corrected version Senate Republicans flagged:

DeMint doesn’t care. “I’ve been told by businesses that if we would stop the tax increases the best thing that could happen for business after that is complete gridlock. At least gridlock is predictable,” he tells Bloomberg Businessweek, taking a quick break between TV appearances. His goal, he says, is to stop programs that violate his anti-Big Government ideology.

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