Exit Jim DeMint. Enter ... Tim Scott?


North Charleston / Flickr

Rep. Tim Scott speaks to a group of veterans in North Charleston, South Carolina.

Arch-conservative Senator Jim DeMint—who is something of an avatar for the Tea Party in Congress—is retiring to join the Heritage Foundation as its new president:

South Carolina U.S. Senator Jim DeMint will replace Ed Feulner as president of the Heritage Foundation. Mr. DeMint will leave his post as South Carolina's junior senator in early January to take control of the Washington think tank, which has an annual budget of about $80 million.

His reasoning seems to be that he's of more use in the private sector—spreading ideas—than he is in the Senate:

Sen. DeMint said he is taking the Heritage job because he sees it as a vehicle to popularize conservative ideas in a way that connects with a broader public. "This is an urgent time," the senator said, "because we saw in the last election we were not able to communicate conservative ideas that win elections."

DeMint's departure means that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley will have to choose someone to serve out the rest of his term. Competition for this will be intense—whoever becomes the next senator from South Carolina will almost certainly have a good chance of winning reelection in 2016, and thus becoming a fixture in the state's political landscape.

If I had to hazard a guess for the most likely replacement, it is Congressman Tim Scott, who has achieved a fair amount of prominence given his short time in the House. Part of this has to do with novelty; Scott is an African American Republican who represents Strom Thurmond's old district and has close ties to the Tea Party movement. He's well-liked within the state's political establishment, and during the GOP primary, he hosted seven “First in the South Presidential Candidate Town Halls," sharing the stage separately with each of the leading candidates. He's always been mentioned as a candidate for statewide office, and this is his chance to shine.

If chosen, not only would Scott be the seventh African American to ever serve in the Senate—and the only one to serve in the 113th Congress—he would be the first black senator from South Carolina, ever. Despite its huge population of freedmen, South Carolina did not send a former slave (or freeman) to the Senate during Reconstruction.

Which is to say that, in addition to his conservatism and considerable political skills, he would be a historic choice, which is why Republicans are enthusiastic about him as a potential pick. For that matter, I would like to see him in the Senate as well; as a highly visible black politician, the symbolic value of a Senator Scott is important, even if his politics hardly match those of most African Americans.

My only hope is that Republicans refrain from using him as a Band-Aid for their broader issues with diversity; having a black senator does not mean the GOP has made steps toward fixing its considerable problems with nonwhite voters. In the same way that Marco Rubio won't attract Latino voters, Tim Scott does nothing to help Republicans make headway with African Americans who might be receptive to their message.