For nearly the last five decades, South Carolina has been represented in the U.S. senate by only four men. By all indications, however, that’s set to be five by 2016. A reading of the political tea leaves shows that Sen. Jim DeMint will not be seeking reelection in the fall of 2016.
The Greenville native has stated that barring any unforeseen changes, he will be exiting the halls of Congress at the end of his second term in order to, as he puts it, “go back home and rock on the front porch.” For now, he seems to be staying true to his word. Unlike his Senate counterpart Lindsey Graham, DeMint has greatly scaled back his fundraising efforts.
During this time in the lead up to his 2010 reelection campaign, he had raised nearly $1.2 million, almost three times more than his current total of $400,000. He’s even been handing money back to outside groups that are politically aligned with him. Earlier this year, “Sen. Tea Party,” as he likes to be called, gave $500,000 to Club for Growth Action, a super PAC that supports conservative Republican candidates.
Even if DeMint changes course and decides to head back to the Senate in four years, it’s unlikely that he’d have any trouble doing so. In his reelection campaign two years ago, his toughest challenger was Alvin Greene, the beyond-shocking nominee for the S.C. Democratic Party who received only 28 percent of the total vote.
Despite his popularity in the Palmetto State, it seems DeMint will ultimately have a conflicting legacy on the national stage. Tea Party conservatives will remember him as one of the founders of their movement and will continue to champion his ideas. However, Democrats and even some middle-of-the-road Republicans will likely view DeMint as a senate stonewall. Never one to compromise, he probably made some great, tight-knit friends in the senate, but obviously had his fair share of enemies as well.
One of the most glaring examples in recent memory is DeMint’s hardnosed stance on raising the debt ceiling. Calling the vote perhaps the most “toxic” decision ever, he said anyone who supported raising the limit would be automatically voted out of Congress.
He’s even clashed with high ranking members of his own party. DeMint has pushed for the recruitment of such extreme GOP candidates that he was actually criticized in public by John Cornyn, the party’s senate campaign committee chairman.
Although he’s had successes in supporting candidates, including the backing of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, there have been major failures too, particularly the endorsement of Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell. Despite this, DeMint has not shied away from giving support to candidates largely considered to be on the political fringes.
In early July, he established plans to create a super PAC, which makes it possible to raise unlimited funds to support any cause or campaign in the future. In 2012, DeMint has already successfully picked an insurgent candidate to knock off a somewhat moderate incumbent Republican.
Showing that his reach stretches well beyond the boundaries of South Carolina, he was instrumental in helping Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock beat long-time Sen. Richard Lugar in the Hoosier State Republican primary. Lugar, first elected to the Senate in 1976, was the third most senior senator in Washington, but will now have to watch the November general election from the sidelines.
Mourdock’s victory speech seemed to perfectly encapsulate DeMint’s attitude and perhaps his post-Senate legacy as well. Compromise, according to Mourdock, is about having Democrats side with the GOP.
In the end, DeMint and his new GOP recruits wouldn’t have it any other way.