DeMint Move Ignites Talk of 2016 Presidential Run

Friday, 07 Dec 2012 11:39 AM

By David A. Patten

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South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint’s surprise announcement that he will leave the U.S. Senate in January to take over leadership of the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank has ignited speculation among grass-roots conservatives that DeMint may use the new post as a launching pad for a presidential bid in 2016.

“Jim DeMint will have a bigger microphone than before,” conservative direct-marketing pioneer Richard Viguerie tells Newsmax. “If he wants to, this opens up a lot more opportunities for him. I think there’s a decent chance that he’ll be a serious presidential candidate in four years.”

Viguerie called the move to Heritage “an intermediate step.”

Editor’s Note: Who’s to Blame for the Fiscal Cliff? Vote Here!

“It’s going to be a boon to the cause, to Heritage,” he said. “And it gives [DeMint] a major opportunity to run for president in four years. And if so, he would be the instant front-runner among most conservatives.”

DeMint already had effectively term-limited himself by announcing he would not seek another six years in the Senate. When GOP hopes of seizing control of the Senate were dashed in November, he was looking at four more years of life as a back-bencher, with relatively little influence over legislation passed by the upper chamber.

But now, grass-roots sources tell Newsmax, the prospect of a DeMint-for-president campaign is creating significant buzz among movement conservatives.

“I was totally shocked,” Tea Party Express Chairwoman Amy Kremer tells Newsmax. “When I saw the news Thursday morning, tears welled up in my eyes.

“He is our rock in the United States Senate,” she adds. “But at the same time, I know Jim DeMint, and he is not going anywhere. I have always thought he would make a great president, and I have always thought he should make a run. …I think this is probably a step in that direction, and I hope it is. Because he’s not just a senator, he’s a statesman.”

In part, DeMint has at times contributed to that speculation. In November, in an interview with McClatchy Newspapers, he backed off his previous, unequivocal insistence that he had no interest in running for president.

Nor is this the first time DeMint’s name has been linked to Oval Office aspirations. In March 2011, he addressed a conference of conservatives in Iowa. That trip to the first GOP caucus state triggered widespread speculation that he might be considering tossing his hat in the ring. DeMint quickly squelched those rumors, however.

Thursday evening, DeMint was asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer if he would have stayed in the Senate had GOP standard-bearer Mitt Romney won the presidency. Had Romney won, any path for DeMint to run in 2016 would likely have vanished.

“I would have thought differently about it,” DeMint confessed. “But I told [outgoing Heritage chief] Ed [Feulner] four years ago, half-jokingly, that when people ask me to run for president, I said, ‘The only president I want to be is president of the Heritage Foundation. Because they’re about ideas, and their ideas are backed up by solid research. And the thing that breaks my heart is [that] as Republicans we’re not doing a good job of convincing Americans that we care about every one of them, and that our policies are going to make their lives better.’”

Editor’s Note: Who’s to Blame for the Fiscal Cliff? Vote Here!

Shortly after the announcement that he would be taking over the Heritage Foundation, DeMint said that he felt he would be more influential in the national debate at Heritage than in the Senate.

Citing his marketing background and private-sector experience prior to coming to Washington, DeMint said: “A lot of my role in the Senate has been stopping bad things and saying no to bad things. But we need to do more than that, and tell Americans what we’re for.

“One of the mistakes I think the Republican Party made the last two years,” he added, “is trying to make Obama the issue without sharing with America bold reform ideas that get people inspired to get behind us.”

For DeMint, shifting over to Heritage offers him several tactical advantages. The most obvious: He may be able to largely escape the fallout from the looming battle over the fiscal cliff. Many analysts believe elements of that fight will drag on long after DeMint takes over at Heritage, an organization with over 250 employees and an $80 million annual budget.

Viguerie says DeMint’s perch at Heritage would make him “the instant front-runner among most conservatives” if he tosses his hat in the ring in 2016.

“As president of Heritage he will be spending maybe three, four, five days a week on the road, talking to major donors and to the conservative grass-roots,” Viguerie says. “So he will add a whole new dimension to his base of support up there. He will be building relationships with hundreds of thousands of conservative activists and donors.

“Heritage mails millions of letters every month,” says Viguerie, owner of American Target Advertising and chairman of ConservativeHQ .com, “and he will have his name on them now.

“So he’ll be in front of millions of conservative activists on a weekly basis,” said Viguerie, who called DeMint “the gold standard” for grass-roots conservatives in Congress.

The recent addition of fellow ironclad conservatives, such as Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, and Jeff Flake of Arizona may have made it easier for DeMint to leave the Senate.

DeMint deserves substantial credit for that influx of formidable young conservatives in Congress. In May 2010, for example, one day after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky endorsed fellow establishment Republican Trey Grayson for the Senate, DeMint parted ways with McConnell by endorsing then-upstart Rand Paul, the son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul. The younger Paul, an ophthalmologist by profession, eventually won the election.

Editor’s Note: Who’s to Blame for the Fiscal Cliff? Vote Here!

“He was one of the few people willing to do so in such a public way in 2010, to endorse candidates that were not the establishment candidates,” Ryan Hecker, the COO of Freedomworks for America, tells Newsmax. “That says a lot about someone that he was willing to put aside his own ambitions within the party, because he might upset some people, for what he saw as fighting for the truth.”

Viguerie calls DeMint “the no. 1 conservative elected official in the entire country.”

He adds that at Heritage, “Jim DeMint will have a bigger microphone than before. If he wants to, this opens up a lot more opportunities for him. I think there’s a decent chance that he’ll be a serious presidential candidate in four years.”

© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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