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South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who once proclaimed that hed rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who believe in principles of freedom than 60 who dont 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 DeMints antics: President Barack Obama.
Thats because, more than Floridas Marco Rubio, Kentuckys Rand Paul or Colorados 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 DeMints rhetoric and actions leading up to the 2010 midterm elections.
DeMints believers comment offers one of those false choices that boil everything down to extremes: Either you are a conservative or you arent. There arent any shades of gray.
The South Carolina Republican apparently doesnt 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, Utahs Mike Lee and Californias 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 DeMints thinking explained the Senators nonendorsement so far this way: Hes willing to rock the boat but is being careful not to turn over the ship. That sounds dangerously close to pragmatism over principle, doesnt it?
Clearly DeMint walks more cautiously when incumbent colleagues are involved, which explains why he didnt endorse in the Utah contest until Sen. Bob Bennett was eliminated at the GOP state convention, as well as why he hasnt endorsed in Alaska. (DeMint did back Pennsylvanias Pat Toomey before Sen. Arlen Specter switched parties.)
Given Hayworths record in Congress, DeMint probably isnt 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 DeMints Senate Conservatives Fund, told me that electability is an issue for DeMint: He isnt going to endorse someone who cant win a general election.
Well, I cant find anyone who knows something about California politics who thinks that DeVore could beat Boxer this year or any year.