South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint announced Thursday that he is resigning from the Senate in January to become the president of the Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C.'s leading conservative think tank. The senator is leaving after eight years in the chamber, with four years remaining in his current term.
DeMint is popular with the Tea Party movement but doesn't have his name on any major laws, nor did he ever play a role in any major deals. Yet he was still considered to be one of the best-known conservative senators, demonstrating the power strong ideology has come to hold in Congress.
"I honestly think I can do a lot more on the outside than I can on the inside," DeMint said Thursday. "I've decided to join the Heritage Foundation at a time when the conservative movement needs strong leadership in the battle of ideas. No organization is better equipped to lead this fight, and I believe my experience in public office as well as in the private sector as a business owner will help."
Texas Sen. John Cornyn said DeMint will be more influential as president of Heritage than he was as a lawmaker:
I think in that position he will be in a very influential position to help shape conservative thought and how to convey the message of conservative principles in a way that has a broader appeal.
David Woodard, with whom DeMint wrote a book, said the fact that Republicans failed to take control of the Senate gave the elected official an incentive to leave his position:
He feels like he has been bashing his head against the wall for awhile. This is an opportunity to formulate policy without having to go into cloak rooms and convince the other side to go along with him.
U.S. News's Susan Milligan says DeMint belongs in a think tank rather than in Congress, where compromise is key:
DeMint is famous—or notorious, depending on one's point of view—for sticking to his very, very conservative guns and refusing to cooperate with Democrats … That doesn't mean there's no room for someone like DeMint in public discourse. It simply means that his best role is not in an institution that requires more flexibility. The House—and increasingly, the Senate, which fancies itself as the world's greatest deliberative body—have become increasingly populated with folks who think they can and should get their own way.
The senator's announcement came as a surprise to many. DeMint had said he wouldn't seek a third term after he was done serving in 2016, but he wasn't expected to depart the Senate before then. Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will appoint a DeMint's replacement who will serve until their replacement is elected in a special election in 2014.
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