The Long Arm (And Hidden Hand) Of Jim DeMint

Former South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint, is now President of the Heritage Foundation | Photo: Chet Susslin

Former South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint, is now President of the Heritage Foundation | Photo: Chet Susslin

By Shane Goldmacher

In the story of how Obamacare went from the undisputed “law of the land,” as Speaker John Boehner said last November, to a law Republicans say is worth shutting down the government to stop, Jim DeMint has been the unsung protagonist.

Past and present aides to the former South Carolina Republican senator, tea party lawmakers he helped elect, and the Heritage Foundation he now leads have their fingerprints all over the political thriller that has left the federal government hanging in the balance. The DeMint diaspora is driving the drama, both behind the scenes and in front of the cameras.

“He’s sort of the granddaddy of this current fight,” said Matt Kibbe, the president and CEO of FreedomWorks, a key tea party ally.

When DeMint abruptly resigned his Senate seat this January four years before the end of his term, some scoffed that he was cashing in, trading the influence of a senator for the paycheck of a lobbyist. His predecessor at Heritage had been paid $1 million a year and it is presumed DeMint is making at least that much. But that chatter has all but ceased.

“There’s no question in my mind that I have more influence now on public policy than I did as an individual senator,” DeMint told NPR last week.

In large part, that’s a testament to the wide network of likeminded aides and lawmakers he’s placed in positions of power across Washington. “DeMint has left a legacy on the Hill that is full of ripple effects – and they’re good ones,” said Chris Chocola, the president of the Club for Growth, which has spent millions in GOP primaries to elect unbending conservatives. “He broke the mold and showed what could happen and he inspired others to follow.”

That includes Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who said this spring, “I would not be in the United States Senate were it not for Senator Jim DeMint.” So when Cruz set out to build his Capitol staff, he dipped heavily into the DeMint alumni network, hiring five of DeMint’s former aides. Among them is Amanda Carpenter, his chief speechwriter, who helped prepare Cruz for his marathon anti-Obamacare speech. The others are Jeff Murray, Alexander Aramanda, Caitlin Thompson, and Samantha Leahy.

Cruz’s chief Senate ally in the defunding fight has been Republican Mike Lee of Utah, another DeMint protégé. DeMint endorsed Lee in a video message that aired during the heated 2010 GOP convention where Lee emerged as the insurgent nominee. “Please send Mike Lee to the Senate so he can join me in the fight for our future,” DeMint told the delegates.