DeMint’s resignation, effective in January, took most everyone on the Hill by surprise. He will take the helm of The Heritage Foundation in April, and one GOP lobbyist said the move was akin to bringing in the star power of Ben Affleck.
The marriage of Sen. Jim DeMint and The Heritage Foundation looks poised to raise the political influence of both the man and the think tank.
As a rank-and-file senator, the South Carolinian has long sought to make the Republican Conference into a group much like himself: uncompromisingly conservative and more interested in ideological purity than bipartisan accomplishments.
From the helm of Heritage, DeMint will have a louder megaphone from which to preach and impose that viewpoint on the party at large, and he will be able to extend his reach far beyond the Senate.
Appearing on Rush Limbaugh’s radio program Thursday, DeMint joked about ousting Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, from his post, an early sign that GOP congressional leaders may be in his cross hairs.
On CNN’s “Situation Room,” DeMint said “there’s no question” he would be more influential at Heritage than as a U.S. senator.
The news of DeMint’s intention to resign in January came as a surprise to many on Capitol Hill, but conservatives embraced the move.
“I think that Jim DeMint’s been a great asset for the conservatives up here. He’s elected a lot of new constitutional conservatives and the other thing is Heritage has a big microphone,” said tea-party-backed Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Republicans off the Hill also said the move will be a boon for the 39-year-old research institute. “It’s just like having a think tank run by me and then handing it off to Ben Affleck. You know, all of a sudden it has a real profile,” said Jeffrey Taylor, a Republican lobbyist at U.S. Government Relations International.
“Today we have combined the most powerful and effective conservative think tank in America with America’s most principled and effective conservative leader,” Heritage Chairman Thomas A. Saunders told staff. “I like to say we are turbocharging our already powerful engine.”
In an interview announcing the move, DeMint told The Wall Street Journal that he does not intend to politicize The Heritage Foundation, but some Republican lobbyists worry that the senator known for bucking Republican leadership on Capitol Hill could be just as disruptive to the party in his new role outside Congress.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.