Jim DeMint Better Suited for the Heritage Foundation Than Congress

Sen. Jim DeMint is much better suited for the conservative think thank than he is for Congress.

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Sen. Jim DeMint speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Feb. 9, 2012, in Washington, D.C. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Sen. Jim DeMint speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 9 in Washington, D.C.

Conservatives may be sorry to see Jim DeMint go. And Democrats may have the opposite view of the South Carolina Republican senator who announced he's leaving, mid-term, to run the Heritage Foundation. Both views point to the same truth: that DeMint is better suited to a conservative think tank than he is to a legislative body where compromise is critical to success.

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. This was especially troubling on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a panel that historically has been bipartisan in nature. The chairman, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, and the ranking Republican member, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, have long had a relationship marked by mutual trust and respect. DeMint upset that comity—and tarnished the entire committee—with partisan behavior more common in legislative committees.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

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. It is this bull-headedness that brought the country close to default, and the world to the brink of a global depression, when a group of conservative House members refused to increase the debt limit so America could pay its bills. Americans for Tax Reform can take that view; the Economic Policy Institute would take a different one. Advocacy groups and research organizations can be unwavering. Members of the House and Senate cannot.

DeMint isn't being hounded out, and he didn't fail. He'll certainly make a great deal more money at Heritage, and he'll still have a strong voice in policy in his party. But he's better suited to head a conservative think tank than he is to a body where he must consider the views and constituents of his colleagues. The loss of Lugar (who lost his primary this year) will leave a huge void at Foreign Relations. DeMint's departure, however, will help moderate the temperature.

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