Well, this sure came out of the blue to me, Jim DeMint’s announcement that he’s resigning from the Senate. Let’s get right to the theories:
1. He’s just interested in having a better quality of life. He’s going to make a million dollars a year and have a car and driver and all that; more importantly, no more going back to South Carolina on weekends and being harangued by people about their SSI checks and their small-business loan applications. Plus one doubts it’s a hard job at all. It’s mostly fund-raising, but he already does that anyway as a senator.
2. He is in some sense dispirited right about now. Obama won, his party didn’t take the Senate, and his movement is in the doldrums right about now. That could change, since history suggests that the 2014 by-elections will be good for the out party, but certainly the zeitgeist right now ain’t very tea party-ish.
3. Conversely, he may feel his work is finished. Several tea-party people have been elected to the Senate, they’ve attained a certain critical mass. They can’t pass anything, but they can still block plenty.
Two other questions: First, whom will Nikki Haley appoint? I’m no expert on South Carolina politics, but I know enough to know that she is a figure of considerable controversy, even or maybe especially within her own party, so I’d reckon she has friends and enemies and frenemies and everything else. The obvious capital-P Political choice is Tim Scott, the congressman. Why? He’s black. He’d be the only African American senator. The appointee will hold the seat until a special election in 2014, so s/he will have lots of time to build up the advantages of incumbency.
Second, what does this tell us about Heritage, taking Mr. Tea Party as its new leader? I don’t know if it was even possible for Heritage to move further to the right, but if it was, it just did so. Heritage is the preeminent conservative policy shop; the AEI people might argue with me, but Heritage is certainly the biggest, anyway. The conservative intellectual/policy class right now faces a choice: lead the party they exist to support in some new and interesting directions, or double down on all the extremist and unpopular positions they currently hold. Heritage just chose.