When he was in the Senate, Jim DeMint wasn’t shy about trying to recruit conservatives he thought would buck the Republican Party establishment and gum up the collegial workings of the legislative process.
Now on the outside, running the Heritage Foundation, the former senator from South Carolina may have even more levers to pull as he puts the full weight of the conservative think tank behind the effort to defund President Obama’s health care law — and in the process becoming a tremendous headache for many fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill.
“Some people love him, some people hate him,” said John Feehery, a Republican Party strategist. “He has never been someone who wanted to be a deal-cutter. Jim DeMint is someone who wants to push the party to the right. He seems to want to spend most of his attention going after Republicans.”
He is credited with playing a key role in helping carve out space on the national stage for a new generation of conservative leaders, starting in 2010 when he helped elect Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah, as well as Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
Mr. DeMint followed that up last year in Texas by helping underdog Ted Cruz defeat Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the primary for the open Senate seat, bucking the state’s Republican Party establishment in the process. Mr. Cruz went on to win the general election and has since become one of the generals in Mr. DeMint’s battle to halt funding for the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
“Senator DeMint’s leadership and early support was critical to helping our campaign build a grass-roots army across Texas,” Mr. Cruz said. “His willingness to ignore the establishment and fight for strong conservatives has given him unsurpassed credibility as the ‘Johnny Appleseed’ of conservative politics.”
Mr. DeMint’s record in backing conservative candidates, though, has been mixed.
In addition to his 2010 successes, he also supported Republican candidates Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Ken Buck in Colorado and Sharron Angle in Nevada. Party analysts said each of those races would have been winnable if Republicans had chosen a better nominee.
Republicans also fell three seats shy of earning a 50-50 split with Democrats in the chamber.
Now on the outside, Mr. DeMint, who celebrated his 62nd birthday Monday, is battling some of his own young proteges.
Heritage analysts released a report saying the legislation would cost $6.3 trillion by saddling the country with long-term welfare costs — a move that injected the think tank into a bitter divide within the Republican Party.