South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint’s surprising decision Thursday to leave the Senate four years early to take the top post at the Heritage Foundation marks another major blow for conservative Republicans, raising new questions about the future of the conservative movement in the wake of the GOP’s 2012 election losses. With DeMint’s departure, the Senate will lose one of the Republican Party’s most influential conservative kingmakers. DeMint was a leading force in the rise of the Tea Party movement, and his supporters credit him with the election of Tea Party and/or Liberty Movement-friendly Senators like Rand Paul (R-KY), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Ted Cruz (R-TX).
But Establishment Republicans also blame DeMint for fostering the GOP’s internecine battles by building up the specter of a primary threat, and backing unpalatable far-right candidates who went on to squander the party’s chances in general election races.
Although DeMint will continue to wield influence in his new position at the Heritage Foundation, the move shifts a major nucleus of conservative power from inside Congress to an outside body — a symbolic step backwards for the Tea Party and other movement conservatives, whose influence has been steadily waning since its 2010 peak.
The DeMint announcement comes as GOP leaders takes steps to stamp out party divisions and enforce discipline among its members in the aftermath of the GOP’s election failures.
Earlier this week, House Speaker John Boehner led the Republican leadership in stripping four outspoken conservative members — Justin Amash (R-MI), Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), David Schweikert (R-AZ), and Walter Jones (R-NC) — of their coveted positions on the House Budget and Banking Committees.
The purge sparked outrage among conservative activists, some of whom have subsequently called for Boehner’s removal from the Speaker post.
In a strongly-worded Facebook post, Amash — a staunch deficit hawk and vocal supporter of Ron Paul — laments the leadership’s “heavy-handedness,” and says that the purge sends a bad message to young conservatives. He also notes that the leadership never even officially told him that he was being removed from the Budget Committee, and instead learned about it through news reporters.
Here’s the post, which had 5,634 likes at the time this post went up:
rumour has it that I’ve been removed from the House Committee on the Budget. Remarkably, I still have not received a single call, e-mail, or text from Republican leadership confirming this story. In fact, I wouldn’t even have learned about it if not for the news reports. I look forward to hearing from my party’s leadership about why my principled, conservative voting record offends them. That’s sure to be a lively and entertaining conversation.
In the meantime, I can only speculate as to what specifically would make Republican leadership punish several of its party’s most principled members. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who was kicked off of both Budget and the Committee on Agriculture, voted with me against the 2013 House budget resolution because it does not sufficiently address the federal government’s debt crisis. That was one of only three times during this Congress that I voted against the Chairman’s recommendations in committee. In fact, I voted with the Republican Chairman more than 95% of the time, and I have voted with my party’s leadership more than three-quarters of the time on the House floor.
What message does leadership’s heavy-handedness send? It says that independent thinking won’t be tolerated, not even 5% of the time. It says that voting your conscience won’t be respected. It says that fulfilling your commitment to your constituents to work with both Republicans and Democrats to reduce our debt takes a back seat to the desires of corporate special interests. And, most troubling for our party, it says to the growing number of young believers in liberty that their views are not welcome here.
I’ll miss working with my colleagues on Budget. I don’t relish this situation, but if one thing is clear based on the response from the grassroots, it’s that leadership’s actions will backfire. If they think kicking me off of a committee will lead me to abandon my principles or stifle my bipartisan work toward a balanced budget, I have a message for them: You’re dead wrong.
According to Amash’s spokesperson, Will Adams, the Michigan Republican now joins Huelskamp in calling for the leadership to release the criterion for their removal from the Budget Committee. Adams pointed to reports that some members of the House Steering Committee — which made the decision — had spreadsheets with votes that they considered to be a litmus test for committee assignments.
According to Adams, Amash’s “voting record score” on the spreadsheet was reportedly “very low.” He added that it is not clear what votes were included in the spreadsheet.
“It’s a confusing situation,” Adams told Business Insider. “We want to know which votes riled up the leadership. We want to know the votes upon which we’re being judged.”
But even if those votes are released, Adams said Amash’s staff isn’t hopeful that the decision will be reversed.
“We plan on having conversations with the House leadership and members of the House Steering Committee,” he said. “But there’s no indication that the decision will be changed.”