Jim DeMint Emerges As Conservative Superpower With His 'Disciples,' But Faces Big GOP Backlash
South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint -- who has achieved superstar status among conservatives and emerged as a prominent face of the Tea Party movement -- remains at odds with some members of his own party in the aftermath of the midterm elections that culminated last week.
Over the course of the campaign season, DeMint waded into a handful of high-profile Senate contests and endorsed Tea Party-backed candidates, some of whom were facing off against GOP incumbent lawmakers and establishment picks in primary races. While the South Carolina Senator cruised to victory in his own reelection bid against unlikely Democratic contender Alvin Greene, it was his active involvement in the other races that seemed to make him both a winner and a loser on election night.
Within the GOP it has reportedly been suggested that the rise of some of the conservative Senate hopefuls -- who ran with strong support from DeMint, but ultimately failed to come out on top in their respective fights -- may have cost the Republicans a chance at retaking control of the Senate.
Amid the post-election blame game, South Carolina's senior senator, Republican Lindsey Graham, didn't mince words in addressing the issue as it relates to DeMint-backed candidate Christine O'Donnell, who lost her race in Delaware by a wide margin. Before the GOP hopeful's come-from-nowhere win in the state's primary, the seat formerly held by Vice President Joe Biden was widely expected to flip red.
"If you think what happened in Delaware is 'a win' for the Republican Party then we don't have a snowball's chance to win the White House," explained Graham to Politico. "If you think Delaware was a wake-up call for Republicans than we have shot at doing well for a long time."
On the heels of the remarks coming to light, along with similar criticism from other Republicans, DeMint told the National Journal that O'Donnell would have had a better shot at winning "had [she] not been so vilified by the Republican Party" at the beginning of her general election campaign.
"It's like you're on the five-yard line ready to score and the quarterback calls the play and some member of your team tackles one of your members and keeps you from scoring," said one unnamed Republican Senator to Politico. "We came tantalizingly close to a majority."
The GOP lawmaker criticized DeMint as "the big loser" of election night and added, "I'm completely mystified by it."
During an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" over the weekend, DeMint dismissed the criticism that the candidacies of O'Donnell and other losing contenders he backed -- like Sharron Angle in Nevada and Ken Buck in Colorado -- were to blame for the inability of Republicans to seize Senate control. "The Tea Party is responsible for just about every Republican elected around the country," he said.
Despite all of the uproar, DeMint still stands tall. Earlier this year the conservative lawmaker suggested he needed "some new Republicans" by his side and now he is set to see his wish fulfilled. Senator-elects he supported who will soon make their way to the upper congressional chamber include Rand Paul in Kentucky, Mike Lee in Utah, Marco Rubio in Florida, Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, and Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania.
Over the summer, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott warned of what he expected could unfold if a handful of DeMint-backed candidates defeated their rivals on election day. The Washington Post reported at the time:
Lott (R-Miss.), now a D.C. lobbyist, warned that a robust bloc of rabble-rousers spells further Senate dysfunction. "We don't need a lot of Jim DeMint disciples," Lott said in an interview [with the Washington Post]. "As soon as they get here, we need to co-opt them.
Coming full circle in the ongoing saga of conservative drama, DeMint issued a response to the criticism from Lott in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published last week. The piece titled "Welcome, Senate Conservatives," along with his rapid emergence into the national spotlight, sheds light on the influence and power wielded by the GOP incumbent within the Tea Party movement.
Dick Armey, who serves as chairman of Tea Party-organizing group FreedomWorks, recently predicted, "Jim DeMint is going to be one of the most influential persons in the Senate."
However, according to the Greenville Times, DeMint doesn't have his sight set on becoming the ranking Republican member in the chamber despite speculation that has swirled in recent months over the prospect of the South Carolina lawmaker taking on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for his title. Of the possibility, he said, "Hell no." He also told the Palmetto State-based outlet, "I don't want power, I don't want a title."
When it comes to exercising clout and influence, in the end, it may not matter whether or not DeMint boasts an official leadership role. His sway in this year's midterm races and success in taking on the GOP establishment is unmistakble.
Only time will tell how the DeMint and Tea Party-backed Senate newcomers will impact the interworkings of Capitol Hill in the next congressional session; however, even in the wake of the post-election uproar, DeMint called the conservative shake-up "a huge change for the Republican Party" and one he believes will prove to be "very positive."