Sept. 20, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Is Jim DeMint Barack Obama’s Ace in the Hole?

South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who once proclaimed that he’d rather have “30 Republicans in the Senate who believe in principles of freedom than 60 who don’t believe in anything,” continues to endorse Senate candidates and give leaders in his own party migraine headaches.

But one politician must be smiling from ear to ear when he follows DeMint’s antics: President Barack Obama.

That’s because, more than Florida’s Marco Rubio, Kentucky’s Rand Paul or Colorado’s Ken Buck — all endorsed by DeMint in GOP Senate primaries against the wishes of party strategists and insiders — the president stands to benefit the most, long term, from DeMint’s rhetoric and actions leading up to the 2010 midterm elections.

DeMint’s “believers” comment offers one of those false choices that boil everything down to extremes: Either you are a “conservative” or you aren’t. There aren’t any shades of gray.

The South Carolina Republican apparently doesn’t concede that even “conservatives” can have different styles and different opinions about how much compromise is necessary to move the country in the right direction.

So far this cycle, DeMint has endorsed a number of Republicans in competitive primaries, including Rubio, Paul, Buck, Utah’s Mike Lee and California’s Chuck DeVore. In Nevada, he indicated a preference for Danny Tarkanian and Sharron Angle, clearly marking his opposition to former state party Chairwoman Sue Lowden.

Oddly, DeMint has not yet endorsed J.D. Hayworth in Arizona or Joe Miller in Alaska, even though both men are attacking their opponents, Sens. John McCain and Lisa Murkowski, for being insufficiently conservative.

One GOP strategist familiar with DeMint’s thinking explained the Senator’s nonendorsement so far this way: “He’s willing to rock the boat but is being careful not to turn over the ship.” That sounds dangerously close to pragmatism over principle, doesn’t it?

Clearly DeMint walks more cautiously when incumbent colleagues are involved, which explains why he didn’t endorse in the Utah contest until Sen. Bob Bennett was eliminated at the GOP state convention, as well as why he hasn’t endorsed in Alaska. (DeMint did back Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey before Sen. Arlen Specter switched parties.)

Given Hayworth’s record in Congress, DeMint probably isn’t likely to get involved in Arizona. But a pre-primary endorsement against Murkowski is not off the table, though Miller almost certainly needs to develop into a greater threat to Murkowski than he now is.

The endorsements of DeVore and, to a lesser extent, Buck are particularly noteworthy because both men are much weaker general election candidates than their primary opponents.

Matt Hoskins, a spokesman for DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund, told me that electability is an issue for DeMint: “He isn’t going to endorse someone who can’t win a general election.”

Well, I can’t find anyone who knows something about California politics who thinks that DeVore could beat Boxer this year or any year.

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