Jim DeMint’s surprise announcement that he is leaving the Senate to take the top job at the Heritage Foundation has triggered some interesting commentary. Jennifer Rubin, who as anyone familiar with her far right screeds at the Washington Post, and before that at Commentary, knows is no slouch in the department of extremism herself, is nevertheless thrilled, but thinks “this is very bad indeed for Heritage” because DeMint is “a pol whose entire style of conservatism – all or nothing, no compromise, no accounting for changes in public habits and opinions — is not true to the tradition of Edmund Burke. …”
Steve Kornacki, a senior editor at Salon who does frequent stints on Rachel Maddow’s show, is (unsurprisingly) better anchored in reality. DeMint knows he will be in a much better position to advance the Tea Party legislative and policy agenda from outside Congress but, equally to the point, the folks at Heritage know that as well — that’s a feature for them, not a bug. Furthermore, if Rubin thinks that DeMint’s departure from the Senate will move congressional Republicans to be less inflexible and more willing to compromise with Democrats to get things done, she is deluding herself:
The reality is that DeMint hasn’t needed the Senate to be a power player for a while now. He has no major legislative projects in the pipeline and probably doesn’t care that much about many of the bills that come before him. He’s an anti-government absolutist. In terms of committee work and floor votes, that role can be filled by someone else – there are plenty of DeMint-types for South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to choose from as she mulls her appointment options. (The leading candidate appears to be Rep. Tim Scott, whose voting record would surely be no different from DeMint’s.)
What DeMint has apparently figured out is that in today’s Republican universe there’s less of a relationship than ever between holding office and holding power. This is what the rise of insular conservative media has done. News is interpreted, talking points are developed and agendas are set on Fox News, talk radio and in the right-wing blogosphere. Republican members of Congress, by and large, take their cues from conservative media, rather than shaping it. This year’s GOP presidential primaries featured more Fox News contributors than active officeholders. Way back, DeMint needed his office to attract attention, but now that he’s a huge player in the insular Republican universe, he doesn’t need it anymore. He can keep right on calling the shots from his new perch at Heritage. Do you think Fox News will be any less interested in having him on now? Or that his endorsement will represent the stamp of purity any less than it now does? He’ll keep right on playing the same role. …
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