And furthermore, wasn’t it naive to pretend that a Republican senator from a blue state like Pennsylvania should have the same platform as a senator from a red state like South Carolina? If electing only the most conservative Republicans meant being relegated to ever-smaller minorities, how could the party hope to have any impact or staying power?
“I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs,” DeMint told the Washington Examiner.
“Some conservatives would rather lose than be seen as compromising on what they regard as inviolable principles,” Texas senator John Cornyn, the head of the NRSC, told the New York Times.
DeMint’s first gamble paid off. Specter the Democrat lost to his opponent in the primary, Representative Joe Sestak, who barely lost to Toomey in the general election.
DeMint and the Senate Conservatives Fund went on to endorse a number of long-shot candidates, including Marco Rubio, the young, charismatic former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, who at one point trailed popular Florida governor Charlie Crist in polls by 30 points. Rubio’s come-from-behind victory got a boost from DeMint’s branding and from the Senate Conservatives Fund, which supported him to the tune of almost $590,000.
DeMint also backed winning insurgents in Utah (Mike Lee) and Kentucky (Rand Paul). In the Utah campaign, DeMint didn’t endorse Lee until after Republican incumbent Bob Bennett was eliminated at the state’s GOP nominating convention, leaving two Tea Party candidates to battle it out in a runoff. But DeMint cut an endorsement video for Lee ahead of time, to be shown once Bennett was out of the race. DeMint says he knew his colleagues would be “miffed” about this but felt he had no choice. Bennett was “a friend of mine,” but he wasn’t conservative enough and was going to be eliminated anyway.
As for Paul, DeMint backed him despite the fact that minority leader Mitch McConnell, the senior senator from Kentucky, endorsed secretary of state Trey Grayson. DeMint knew some might see his move as “an unforgivable act of insubordination,” he writes, but “[s]omething had to be done.”
In the Alaska race, DeMint butted heads with another colleague. After losing the primary to Tea Partyer Joe Miller, Republican Lisa Murkowski launched a write-in campaign, prompting DeMint to release a fundraising e-mail on Miller’s behalf denouncing her. “Murkowski’s betrayal provides more proof that big-tent hypocrites don’t really care about winning a majority for Republicans,” he wrote. Murkowski managed to claw her way back to a seat despite DeMint’s considerable efforts for Miller, in the amount of $780,000.“The real question is, what’s his desire?” Murkowski told Politico after the elections. “Does he want to help the Republican majority, or is he on his own agenda, his own initiative?” She answered her own question: “I think he’s out for his own initiative.”
Some Republicans blame DeMint for lost seats, saying the party would be in a stronger position to retake the Senate in 2012 if not for his efforts. “We could have more Republican senators right now as a conference,” says Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, a former top Senate aide. “Trying to elect conservative Republicans in states where they’re unlikely to get past the primary is like chasing windmills.”
Next: DeMint's strange place in the future