DeMint and the Culture of Washington

The reaction to Jim DeMint’s departure from the Senate to the Heritage Foundation has been proportional to one’s distance from the Beltway and involvement with the political and media culture of Washington, DC.Conservatives are overjoyed. In the Acela Corridor, the reaction was shock that anyone would leave the Senate under any circumstances (other than feet-first).

Those in this first category don’t understand what DeMint grasped the day he got there: the Senate is broken, and the my-honorable-friend culture there is destructive, false, and ultimately doomed. It’s why he showed little inclination to please the D.C. media, or to seek out the “strange new respect” headlines that come when Republicans walk back their principles. He was never going to play the game in the Senate to advance a legislative career. (The phrase “legislative career” is gagworthy, but all too common an aspiration.)

The snide response to his departure from many of the Squish Caucus speaks volumes about the mutual contempt between DeMint and themselves.

Then there are those who desperately want to discredit the unmediated, post-institutional electoral power DeMint yielded with the Senate Conservatives’ Fund. Yes, he fell short with a number of candidates, but his batting average was strong enough to help bring us Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Kelly Ayotte, and others who now comprise a more agile, more articulate, and more conservative generation in the Senate. These folks are disruptors who sing from the heart when it comes to conservative principles.

Jim DeMint’s decision was that of a man who knows he must move from one point of leverage to the next if he is going to advance the conservative agenda. DeMint helped recruit and support a cohort of conservative stars in the Senate … in several cases in direct opposition to the NRSC and the D.C. political class.

For the last 20 years, Republicans have lost the D.C. deal-making game more times than they’ve won. The moment they start wondering how they’ll look in the New York Times editorial pages they enter into a kind of masochistic trance, almost welcoming the abuse and ridicule. The moment they fall in to the trap of wanting to be seen as bipartisan statesmen is the moment the Democrats smile behind their hands and send for the torturers. DeMint never did, and for that he deserves credit.

In a note about Heritage’s brand and reputation, there’s been a bit of muttering on our side that Heritage will lose its reputation as an intellectual powerhouse on the right. I think they’re largely off-base. Heritage earned their reputation the hard way: by decades of being a conservative policy shop and as a counterweight to the DC conventional policy wisdom.

Two observations: first, the era of the pure conservative think tank is ending. They were an artifact of a time where institutional and media friction restricted the ability of conservative ideas to enter the public discourse. That’s over. The kinds of things Heritage does are vital, but not longer sufficient just as academic exercises.

Liberal think tanks like the Center for American Progress were made, as Sauron made the Orcs, in mockery of Heritage, AEI, et al. But they did get one thing right: they apply their intellectual horsepower to the liberal and Democratic war efforts. They wage unrestricted ideological warfare across the full spectrum of power.

DeMint clearly gets that, and I expect both the Democrats and his detractors in Congress will find Jim DeMint on the outside even less comfortable for them than Jim DeMint on the inside.

  1. katievs

    About that “my honored friend culture”: Yesterday on Rush, DeMint called Harry Reid “a good friend.”  This makes me worry that he’s not quite as clear-sighted as you here propose.

  2. Pseudodionysius

    Jennifer Rubin, call your office.

  3. raycon and lindacon

    Katievs:  we had the same thought when we heard it.

    Hopefully DeMint will amplify the distinction between GOP and conservative.  That is a fuzzy line in many conservative’s minds.  If we can divorce our conservatism from Republicanism, we might have real influence.  We are not saying divorce our vote from the GOP, insofar as they reflect our principles.  We are saying that when we see our future as the future of ANY political party, we are limiting the truth that we as conservatives seek to live and promote.

    In the end, the GOP might win, but conservatism will lose.

  4. Fred Cole

    The phrase “legislative career” is gagworthy, but all too common an aspiration.

    That line made me want to kiss you.

  5. Devereaux

    Katievs & Raycon: we don’t have to hate the opposition to know them wrong and fight them furiously. It is generally the left that does that, and it is one of their least likable traits (among many).

    I would wholeheartedly agree with the concept that we also need to “wage unrestricted ideological warfare across the full spectrum of power”. It has been a weakness of the right for a long time. It is a weakness of the nation in its fight against islaam. 

  6. Trace

    Great post!

  7. Chris Johnson

    I, too, thought askance when DeMint referred to Reid as a friend.  And then I remembered that it’s the GOP leadership that has the most problems with conservatives.  I could see Reid being respectful and friendly towards a thorn in McConnell’s side.

  8. EHerring

    Great article. Re comments about DeMint’s friendship with Reid. Why the doubt? His record as a conservative is sound. He is without the vitriol that poisons politics…he is a gentleman who is above the personal attacks. He is also proof that being a nice guy who rises above personal attacks does not spare you the contempt of the left.

  9. Duane Oyen

    I’ve never found Heritage to be an “intellectual powerhouse”, and their political shop reinforced that this past year.  They are a decent position paper shop, but a pretty weak sister next to AEI, the Library of Economics and Liberty, some Cato stuff (a lot of Cato, particularly on foreign policy and nuclear power, goes off the deep end, but some stuff is excellent), and even parts of Brookings.  Heritage is often just a little bit too consciously political, a mirror of Podesta’s CAP, rather than solid thinking and analysis. 

    There is a good case to be made for that, but not as an intellectual powerhouse.  DeMint is very much more Podesta than he is Arthur Brooks.

  10. raycon and lindacon
    Devereaux: Katievs & Raycon: we don’t have to hate the opposition to know them wrong and fight them furiously. It is generally the left that does that, and it is one of their least likable traits (among many).

    I would wholeheartedly agree with the concept that we also need to “wage unrestricted ideological warfare across the full spectrum of power”. It has been a weakness of the right for a long time. It is a weakness of the nation in its fight against islaam.  · 1 hour ago

    Linda and I agree with your position, and I think Katievs would share your views also.  To oppose is not to hate.  That is, itself, a progleft idea.

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