Jim DeMint, one of the most ideologically pure and least effective legislators in the U.S. Senate, announced he would leave Congress to run the right-wing Heritage Foundation think tank; or, as the Foundation itself put it, “Jim DeMint to Lead the Battle of Ideas.”
It would seem to us that, compared to having a part in the making of national laws, leading the Battle of Ideas is rather a demotion, and some rightbloggers found DeMint’s move a dereliction of duty. But a surprising number thought he did well by conservatism by abandoning the Senate, where they thought no meaningful progress can be expected, for a high-paid policy shop job.
The placement of a politician/propagandist at the helm of an alleged intellectual enterprise is kind of weird — Paul Krugman quipped the appointment was “taking the think out of think tank.” But the 500% pay raise is very nice, and South Carolina governor Nikki Haley can be counted on to appoint a conservative in his place. So it’s probably a wash in real terms.
Some rightbloggers were pissed, though. Among the naysayers was Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post, who under the headline “Good riddance, Mr. DeMint” argued that “even DeMint would not claim to be a serious scholar… He’s a pol whose entire style of conservatism… is not true to the tradition of Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk and others.” From her follow-up, it’s clear she also thinks Heritage deserves DeMint: “Heritage’s Action Network has become among the most screechy in the all-or-nothing brand of politics, challenging all but extreme right-wingers and calling virtually all possible compromises a ‘cave,'” she wrote.
Bungalow Bill noticed that “it was the Heritage Foundation who came up with the basic blueprint of Obama with the idea of a federal mandate for healthcare. As well the Heritage Foundation has been a defender of the Fourth Amendment killing Patriot Act.” By supporting these former flavors of the conservative month, the Foundation was “empowering the statists and growing the power and size of the federal government.” As for DeMint,”who I have often praised,” Bill figured “millions of dollars speaks volumes for the Senator…”
On the other hand, the libertarians at Reason — whom you’d think would be (and once were) cool toward DeMint, given his proud social conservatism — showed a Strange New Respect for the outgoing Senator. Reason Editor Nick Gillespie explained that DeMint suggested to him he’d be open to defense spending cuts, and “even more amazingly, he praised Rep. Ron Paul’s libertarian influence on the GOP base… I hope that DeMint brings his understanding of decentralization of power and appreciation for a live-and-let-live ethos.” Considering that DeMint voted for constitutional amendments banning flag-burning and gay marriage, that seems a fond hope, but maybe the Koch Brothers money all of these people are getting will smooth the transition for at least one of them.
At TownHall, Mark Davis lauded DeMint because “he has shown little patience for Republicans seeking to cut deals with the left in a search for ‘common ground.'” He further explained: “Democrats are your brother-in-law with a gambling problem. He asked for you 500 dollars and you gave it to him. He asked you for five thousand and you gave it to him. He has squandered it and now he is back, asking for twenty grand. You don’t meet in the middle. You tell him no and suggest he get his act together.”
That’s how you win elections, Davis claimed — by being a hardass, even if it might cost you votes. “The Republicans seeking to curry favor with moderates or the press or the countless young women or people of color we will need in 2014, 2016 and beyond, are enablers,” he wrote. So forget pandering to the curried and colored — what’s needed are “messengers with boundless energy willing to explain why lower taxes– even on the ‘wealthy’– are good for everyone,” etc. Davis was also pleased that the front-runner to replace DeMint was, in addition to being “a pro-life, pro-business voice unafraid to warn that our hasty exits from Iraq and Afghanistan are a gift to al Qaeda… is black, which will drive liberals crazy. How do you not love this man?”
Also encouraged by putative negative reactions was Rick Wilson of Ricochet, who affected to notice a “snide response to his departure from many of the Squish Caucus” among Congressional Republicans, who “don’t understand what DeMint grasped the day he got there: the Senate is broken, and the my-honorable-friend culture there is destructive, false, and ultimately doomed.” These squishes, Wilson told us, are prone to “start wondering how they’ll look in the New York Times editorial pages,” and thus “enter into a kind of masochistic trance, almost welcoming the abuse and ridicule. The moment they fall in to the trap of wanting to be seen as bipartisan statesmen is the moment the Democrats smile behind their hands and send for the torturers.”
To anyone following the openly hostile relations between Washington Democrats and Republicans in the Obama era, from GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy declaring “we’ve gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign” in January 2009 to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announcing he “burst into laughter” at Obama’s fiscal cliff plan last month, this may seem ridiculous. On the other hand, it has been a while since someone yelled “You lie!” at the President, so maybe they’ve mellowed.
Wilson went on: DeMint, unlike the squishes, “knows he must move from one point of leverage to the next if he is going to advance the conservative agenda,” which bodes well for the transformation of the Foundation from a think tank into something more like a Sherman tank:
“The era of the pure conservative think tank is ending,” said Wilson. “…the kinds of things Heritage does are vital, but not longer sufficient just as academic exercises. Liberal think tanks like the Center for American Progress were made, as Sauron made the Orcs, in mockery of Heritage, AEI, et al. But they did get one thing right: they apply their intellectual horsepower to the liberal and Democratic war efforts. They wage unrestricted ideological warfare across the full spectrum of power.”
It makes sense in a way: If you’re an ordinary person, you may think ward heelers, precinct captains, campaign strategists and volunteers win elections. But if you write about politics, the temptation to give the starring role to people cooking up policy papers must be overwhelming.
“It is impossible to consider this move as anything but a triumph, a vindication of DeMint’s approach to politics over the past five years,” said Ben Domenesch at Real Clear Politics. How so? “DeMint set out to change the Senate,” said Domenesch, “and he succeeded by recognizing that the Senate no longer matters or functions in the way it once did.” For one thing, “the success of his quest with Tom Coburn to end earmarking is a classic example,” which we guess it is, given how successful the Senate has been in reining in spending. (That’s a joke, son.)
Also, “there was a view about how Senators should behave, how they should look, how they should act – and in all ways, DeMint rejected it.” It would seem Domenesch is saying that DeMint is an asshole, of which he approves.
Most importantly, DeMint saw that his new think tank will have more effect on U.S. policy than the Senate. “DeMint is recognizing that nothing of significance will likely happen in forming policy over the next four years,” said Domenesch. “Rather than be the scapegrace of the Senate, he will aim to transform Heritage into the 800 pound gorilla it can be in Washington… In the new post-politeness reality, it is in fact more influential to have the resources and weapons of the Heritage Foundation at your fingertips than to be one of a hundred Senators. Let the other Senators play pretend – he’ll be where the action is.” Bow before the post-politeness warriors, “elected” pretenders!
The reaction of PowerLine’s Paul Mirengoff seemed, for once, more realistic to us: “DeMint,” he said, “has demonstrated considerable fundraising skill with the Senate Conservatives Fund.” And we imagine the kind of people who’ll peel off bills for rightwing policy papers will only be more likely to do so with a marquee name in charge.
As to the idea that a top conservative Senator bailing for a million-dollar place on a letterhead is good for conservatism, that makes a little more sense when you consider the cold feet rightbloggers have recently gotten over House Speaker John Boehner.
As National Review‘s Kevin D. Williamson put it:
The prospects for serious fiscal reform in Washington look dire indeed, at least for the immediate future. Speaker John Boehner saw most of his caucus easily reelected, but he clearly was spooked by the Republicans’ drubbing in the presidential race and in key Senate races. The Republican steering committee announced its intention to strip key House conservatives of relevant committee positions. Senator Jim DeMint has concluded, not without reason, that he will be a more effective force for limited government as head of the Heritage Foundation than he could be as a leader in the Senate.The bit about “stripping conservatives” is misleading — the replacements aren’t exactly liberals, and House bosses have been known to strong-arm fractious underlings before.
But this is the New Era with New Thinking, and Boehner’s move raised rightblogger alarms.
“Et tu, Boehner?” cried WorldNetDaily. “Boehner Punishes the Principled,” howled Ross Kaminsky at the American Spectator. “I thought we had a Congress rather than a Politburo… I (perhaps naively) expected better behavior from John Boehner than from Nancy Pelosi or Barack ‘Don’t think we’re not keeping score, brother’ Obama…” Kaminsky also interviewed one of the ousted, Rep. Justin Amash, who talked darkly about “the left flank of the party.”
“What a dastardly joke the GOP leadership is,” muttered Lew Rockwell. “If Boehner and [House Majority Leader Eric] Cantor see fit to exile pro-Tea Party Congressmen,” said Aaron Goldstein at The American Spectator, “then is it any wonder why the Obama Administration feels emboldened enough to demand complete and unconditional surrender from the House GOP?” “Aaargh blargh blargh,” said radio host Mark Levin, “Aargh spit arrgh grrrarrrgh.”
The president of the Club for Growth — another of those big rightwing orgs and, for all we know, also more powerful than Congress — said the ousted Reps “are now free of the last remnants of establishment leverage against them. We expect that these three defenders of economic freedom will become even bolder in their efforts to defend the taxpayers against the big spenders in both parties.”
The prospect that Boehner’s House Republicans might cut a deal with Obama on the fiscal cliff, rather than allowing a cliff-jump that polls say will make the GOP look bad to voters, also annoyed them. (Depending on your point of view, this shows either a poor understanding of politics, or the sort of clear-eyed post-politeness that made the DeMint maneuver such a triumph.)
“Like Theatre of the Absurd,” explicated I Own The World, “Speaker Boehner’s actions in the Fiscal cliff debate defies all logic, communication is breaking down and is primed to give way to the silence of the Republican Party and maybe for good.” “Obama and Boehner: America’s Duo-Dictators,” snarled FreedomWorks’ Ted Abram. “Now is the time for experienced patriots to come together and prevent ruin.” “Spineless Surrender Monkey John Boehner To Conservatives: We’re Watching Your Votes,” roared Rat’s Right. “GUTLESS SPEAKER FOLDS UP LIKE A CHEAP LAWN CHAIR.”
“John Boehner Leads Republicans Into Political Little Big Horn,” metaphorized Floyd and Mary Beth Brown of The Western Center for Journalism. “John Boehner, at nearly every critical juncture, has raised the white flag of capitulation. The first capitulation was not fighting for a permanent extension of the Bush Tax Cuts in 2010…”
Naturally talk turned to insurrection. RedState’s Ned Ryun called for Boehner to be “fired.” “We only need 16 conservatives to abstain from the Speaker vote to depose Boehner and force the GOP caucus to pick new leadership,” Ryun said. “We’ve had thousands of activists nationwide ask how they can help.” The Daily Caller reported “American Majority Action (AMA) is launching a #FireBoehner campaign.” (AMA is run by Ryun.)
“Mutiny Against Boo-Hoo Boehner,” announced Moonbattery. “Either Boehner is in cahoots with Obama to further cripple the economy… or he is a spineless fool… Whether the GOP is worth supporting in 2014 may depend on whether Boehner is still in the driver’s seat.” Don’t make him pretend to vote third party again!
“Finally,” yelled Jeff Goldstein of Protein Wisdom, putting on his war paint and headband. “Some people who understand that a bureaucratic GOP awaiting its turn at the statist trough is every bit at odds with the founding principles as is the New Left, who have taken over the Democratic party… Let’s get going. Because the next time Boehner cries his little orange tears, I want to make sure he has a damn good reason.” He then ran through the jungle, and his whereabouts are unknown.
Guess who had a few giggles about kicking Boehner out on the Rush Limbaugh show? Jim DeMint.
Traditional conservatives picked up the message: “It doesn’t even matter whether Boehner gets deposed as speaker” after a fiscal cliff deal, mourned Charles Krauthammer. “Either way, the Republican House would be neutered, giving Obama a free hand to dominate Washington and fashion the entitlement state of his liking.”
And so rightbloggers are on the verge of a great victory: Redirecting conservative anger from Obama and the Democrats toward the conservative-but-not-conservative-enough Republican political leadership. And why shouldn’t they? Jim DeMint has proven to them that political leadership is for feebs. It’s not the man in the arena, to use Teddy Roosevelt’s phrase (say, wasn’t he a socialist?), but the man scribbling blog posts about the man in the arena who counts. It’s post-political dynamite, as we’re sure to see in elections to come.