Sen. Jim DeMint has taken his share of punches in Washington — including some from his own side of the aisle — but his constituents have become accustomed to seeing him standing tall. The U.S. Senate is a club designed to encourage chummy collegiality, but DeMint successfully operates by his own set of rules. Anyone who has ever been shunned, punished, or even ignored by friends and colleagues for taking a principled stand should identify with this unapologetic South Carolinian.
DeMint’s latest book, “The Great American Awakening,” is flush with personal examples of being an outsider in an institution built for insiders.
National Journal rates DeMint the #1 conservative in the Senate. He sees his left-wing colleagues fundamentally transforming the nature of our government far beyond what our founders would recognize as acceptable. And time is running out, he says, before big-government European socialism swallows our liberty and prosperity.
Through his novel Senate Conservative Fund PAC, DeMint “rocked the boat” by helping to bring to Washington five fresh-voiced conservatives whom the Republican establishment was not helping: Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
DeMint recalls D.C. insiders telling him that Republican principles aren’t as important as Republican numbers. His answer, always delivered respectfully, is that principled candidates often bring new numbers along with them.
Sen. DeMint sees the Tea Party movement as a sort of spiritual revival, a re-awakening of the American conscience, which both inspires him and confirms his instincts.
Ruffling feathers never made anyone popular, so it’s no surprise that Senate leaders recently overlooked DeMint for an open seat on the Finance Committee, where he could have worked on health care, social security and taxes. Still, as head of the Senate Republican Steering Committee, a group of conservative senators who frequently meet with House Republican Study Committee members (their counterpart in the House), DeMint’s stature is rising.
He has leveraged the American people and the talk-radio circuit in his fight to end earmarks, which he sees as a corrupting influence in Congress, and a bipartisan immigration reform bill practically no one thought could be stopped. DeMint should be regarded as essential to bringing the political momentum that restored the House to Republican control, but only the newest of his Senate colleagues will admit it.
Last week, Sen. Jim DeMint sat down with TheDC’s Ginni Thomas to talk about debt-limit negotiations, President Obama and the Tea Party movement.
Why are the stakes so high on this debt ceiling vote in Washington?
“This could be a make-or-break time for Republicans as we deal with this debt limit, how we deal with it.”
Are you concerned that Republicans will be blamed if Congress can’t find the votes to increase the debt ceiling by early August?
“Anyone who says the Republicans have been irresponsible aren’t looking at the facts. I think the president is manufacturing a crisis.”
Are you the leader of the Tea Party movement?
“Sometimes people credit me for the Tea Party. It’s actually the other way around. What I did is I tried to become their voice here on the inside. And in return they got my back when I became an outcast here for supporting those candidates.”
Being an “insider” who has become an “outcast” for standing on principles, how does the “Washington establishment” try to pressure a principled person within their team?
“They lectured me that I didn’t understand politics. They said, ‘DeMint, this is not about principle. It’s about numbers.’ And I said back to them and the media, ‘I’d rather have 40 republicans who believe in the principles of freedom than 60 who believe in nothing at all.’ And they think I was wrong. But what I knew has proved true in 2010. You’ll get the numbers if you get the people with the principles who stand up for what they believe.”
Your thoughts on President Obama’s leadership?
“President Obama has not led … he doesn’t lead by putting ideas out there. He’s just saying, ‘You guys figure it out.’”
What insight and advice could you offer on discerning what is most important in these high pressure, high profile public jobs?
“The one thing I learned a long time ago is you can’t try to please everyone who’s here or even all your constituents back home. If you remember you just have one constituent, and that’s God himself, and if you try to please him I think you usually come with a lot steadier pace and a lot more peace in your life.”
Having such resolute focus, where are you most likely to bend?
“As a grandfather I think I’m an easy target.”
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