US Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) announced on Thursday that he is resigning his seat in the Senate to head the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Sen. DeMint is a leading voice for the tea party on Capitol Hill and his resignation raises further questions on the future of the movement’s influence in Washington.
The sudden announcement quickly made headlines across the country and shocked several political analysts, pundits, and commentators. Speculation on what this means for the Senate GOP and how this will affect Republican primaries, specifically for Senate seats, has spread like wildfire nationwide.
In a statement released by Sen. DeMint, he said:
“It’s been an honor to serve the people of South Carolina in United States Senate for the past eight years, but now it’s time for me to pass the torch to someone else and take on a new role in the fight for America’s future.”
DeMint added that, while he is leaving the Senate, he is not leaving the fight for conservative principles. He said he is joining the Heritage Foundation “at a time when the conservative movement needs strong leadership in the battle of ideas.”
The Heritage Foundation describes itself as a research and educational institution with the mission of promoting conservative public policy positions and principles, which include “free enterprise, limited government, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.” Sen. DeMint will replace current Heritage president Edwin J. Feulner.
Thomas A. Saunders, Heritage Chairman of the Board, echoed Sen. DeMint’s comments on how crucial a moment this is for conservatives. He praised Feulner for making the Heritage Foundation a “permanent institution” on Capitol Hill and the “flagship organization of the entire conservative movement.”
"Jim DeMint has shown that principled conservatism remains a winning political philosophy. His passion for rigorous research, his dedication to the principles of our nation's founding, and his ability to translate policy ideas into action make him an ideal choice to lead Heritage to even greater success."
DeMint is in a position to receive a substantial raise compared to what he currently receives as a member of the Senate. Feulner received $1.03 million in 2010 while DeMint currently pulls in roughly $174,000 a year.
His announcement comes at an unusual time for the national Republican Party. Since the 2012 elections, some Republicans have started to consider the direction the party is moving more thoroughly, even reconsidering the GOP’s position on issues like immigration reform.
A growing number of Republicans have said they are willing to ditch the Grover Norquist tax pledge to deal with the looming “fiscal cliff” and US House Speaker John Boehner recently received criticism from conservative activists and commentators for “purging” conservatives from top congressional committees. Popular conservative author, Michelle Malkin, even tweeted:
It certainly seems like a precarious moment for the conservative movement and tea party activism. Now that the 2012 elections are over, the internal struggle for the “soul” of the GOP has only intensified and will continue to do so in the coming years as the Republican Party looks to its own future.