by Todd Jackson
South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, widely considered the most reliably conservative member of the Senate and a Tea Party leader, chastened his fellow conservatives by announcing his sudden retirement from the Senate to lead the Heritage Foundation, one of the right’s most important think-tanks. In leaving, he tagged Rep. Tim Scott as his favored successor. Following the narrow defeat of Florida Rep. Allen West, Scott holds the position of the only African-American Republican in the House. Should he in fact take DeMint’s spot, he would be the only current African-American in the Senate from either party. Appointments of this kind fall to the State’s Governor, in this case Nikki Haley.
DeMint’s retirement is a blow to conservatives, particularly in light of the House Republican Steering Committee’s removal of two noted conservatives, Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, and Rep. David Schweikert of Arizona, from the powerful Budget and Financial Services committees. Taken together, these defeats seem to some on the right as continuations of their defeat on Nov. 6 at the hands of re-elected President Barack Obama, and they are especially troubling as the House squares off with the President over the budget details necessary to avoid the “Fiscal Cliff” facing the nation in less than a month. All signals suggest a GOP readier than before to cave on the President’s demands, which include a tax rate increase for those earning over $250,000 a year and little emphasis so far on budget cuts. House Speaker John Boehner has denied that the removals were about ideology, and Huelskamp himself has said that “It’s not about principles, it’s about blind obedience.” This is little balm indeed to the right.
DeMint has been a reliable voice for causes on the Hill, particularly on budget matters. As Dem. Majority Leader Harry Reid has considered out loud the possibility of changing the rules of filibustering, it would be DeMint who might be most likely to filibuster an agreement particularly disagreeable to conservatives. He voted against the Federal bailouts of the financial and auto industries, consistent with his his objection to increased Federal spending generally; he favors a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
The Heritage Foundation describes itself as “a research and educational institution—a think tank—whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.”
DeMint’s favored choice to replace him, Rep. Tim Scott, was elected as part of the Tea Party class of 2010 on a platform of cultural and fiscal conservatism. He is the owner of an insurance company, for which he worked as financial advisor.
Gov. Haley has a full roster of candidates for the spot, including Rep. Mick Mulvaney, another member of the 2010 Class and a particular favorite of the Tea Party, and Rep. Trey Gowdy, yet another member of the 2010 “class” and a noted battler on both the Government Reform and Judicial Committees.
Democrats spent a great deal of effort achieving the defeat of incumbent Allen West in Florida and challenger Mia Love in Utah, vexing the GOP by then proceeding to criticize the Republicans as being “too white.” There is no doubt that a Senate appointment for Scott would significantly increase the African-American profile on the Hill simply by his moving to the Upper House, particularly if Speaker Boehner truly is committed to sidelining conservatives in the House.