But here in Manchester, DeMint is beloved. A group of Republican presidential hopefuls are speechifying—Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who delights the crowd of 350 with sharp jokes, and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who today could put a teleprompter to sleep. Now here is DeMint—a.k.a. Senator Tea Party—and a man is crying, “Run, Jim, run!”
Will he? Through the spring, as the lackluster Republican field emerges, DeMint has seemed to go back and forth, stoking speculation with a trip to Iowa, then declaring himself uninterested, then opening the door by saying he’ll pray on it, then having those close to him say never mind, he didn’t mean it.
To the people in this room, Jim DeMint could be the future of the Republican Party, whether or not he runs for President. DeMint started an innovative political-action committee and in 2010 helped bring in a bunch of conservative new senators—Junior DeMints, some call them—to help him steer the country toward fiscal responsibility, limited government, and moral decency. Now he’s raising money to do it all over again and more in 2012. He says he has no choice. DeMint sees the state of the country in almost apocalyptic terms: debt, spending, a crumbling culture. “I think 2012 is our last chance to turn things around,” he says during an interview before his speech.
Onstage, DeMint paints himself as a whistleblower, standing up to leftward drifters in his own party. He tells the crowd about the time he says he watched an unnamed moderate Republican senator—Ohio’s George Voinovich, as it turns out—get his comeuppance when he was pressured by the “American people” to oppose President George W. Bush’s immigration-reform efforts. That’s your power, DeMint tells the crowd.
The stuff the audience loves is precisely the kind of talk that alienates fellow Republican senators. DeMint sells himself as an outsider in speeches and in his newest book, The Great American Awakening, which comes out in July. But at the beginning of each week, he goes back to Washington—and then he has to work with the very people he’s been publicly slamming. There’s only so much gossiping you can do behind coworkers’ backs before they stop wanting to sit next to you.
Next: DeMint is a love-hate kind of guy