The announcement that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) was resigning at the beginning of 2013, gave political junkies - and plenty of SC politicians - an unexpected early Christmas gift.
DeMint, the unofficial leader of the Tea Party faction in the Senate, has been a thorn in the side of leadership for years. But, his decision to leave the "club" on Capitol Hill doesn't mean that he'll make life any easier for GOP leaders like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell or new NRSC chairman Jerry Moran.
DeMint's resignation to head the Heritage Foundation has huge consequences that go beyond the Palmetto State. Here are some of them:
1) Wither the Tea Party? Just two years after upending Washington (and the GOP), the Tea Party movement has lost its steam. Michele Bachmann barely won re-election in Minnesota. Dick Armey, the leader of the Tea Party group FreedomWorks left the group in a huff (and with a hefty payout), and now DeMint.
2) Can DeMint Have More Influence On the Outside Than Inside? While many have concluded that DeMint's decision is good news for GOP leadership, it's clear that DeMint intends to be just as engaged, if not more so, in pushing the conservative/outsider/Tea Party agenda. Said one former GOP leadership aide: "DeMint is far for dangerous to the 'establishment' in a place where he can criticize every policy decision, every vote and raise millions upon millions of dollars to primary candidates in both the House and Senate - without having to operate in the confines of the building [The Senate]. DeMint in that role will be the arbiter of [conservative] purity.."
3) Will Nikki Haley Make History - And Help Republicans Demographic Troubles At The Same Time? Less than a month after Mitt Romney and the GOP lost an election due in part to their inability to appeal to non-white voters, a Republican Indian-American female Governor has the opportunity to appoint an African-American Republican man to the United State Senate. In South Carolina of all places!! With DeMint set to take up his new position on January 1st, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley will appoint someone to his seat. State law puts no timeline on her decision. This person will face voters in a special election in 2014. Most insiders the Note spoke with yesterday have concluded that Rep. Tim Scott, an African-American Rep. from Charleston, is the frontrunner. Young, charismatic and a Tea Party warrior himself, Scott would be the just the fifth black Senator since Reconstruction.
4) Lindsey Graham Gets A Break? Just minutes after DeMint's announcement, the Twitter-verse was buzzing that South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham was the biggest beneficiary of the unexpected departure. Graham, who has been willing to compromise with Democrats, is seen by many GOP-ers as insufficiently conservative. It was widely expected that he'd get a serious primary challenge in 2014. But, a primary for DeMint's seat, the thinking goes, puts all that conservative energy into an open primary instead of a challenge to a sitting GOP Senator. Not so fast though. If Scott is chosen, no serious conservative would challenge him. Which leaves Graham back in a very dangerous spot.