Today, South Carolina senator Jim DeMint, who was Tea Party before Tea Party was cool, announced that he is retiring just two years into his six-year term. And will he be returning home to Greenville, perhaps to open a general store and be closer to good people of his state? Of course not. That's not what senators do when they retire. They become high-priced lobbyists, cashing in on their years of service by selling their insider status to the highest bidder.
But DeMint won't be doing that either. Instead, he'll become president of the Heritage Foundation, the right's largest and most influential think tank, despite the fact that DeMint was never one for thinkin'. As our old friend Ezra tweeted upon hearing the news, "To state the obvious, you don't make Jim DeMint the head of your think tank in order to improve the quality of your scholarship."
You might wonder whether DeMint thinks he can accomplish more at Heritage than in the Senate, but the truth is, he probably can. As a senator, DeMint has seen his mandate primarily as stopping things liberals want to do, rather than accomplishing anything affirmative. Which, if you separate it from his particular troglodytic ideology, isn't problematic in and of itself. Some legislators put their efforts toward legislating, and some put their efforts toward gumming up the works to stop their opponents, and the Senate provides ample opportunity for the latter. But there's only so much satisfaction you can derive from that, and there are other Republicans who will pick up DeMint's torch. Not to mention the fact that whoever replaces him (South Carolina's Republican governor, Nikki Haley, will appoint a successor who will serve until a special election in 2014) will probably be just as conservative as DeMint.
And if you're not going to become a lobbyist, there are few jobs sweeter for a Republican ex-senator than leading Heritage. It's an enormous organization full of A-list GOP bigwigs (Ed Meese will be just down the hall!), and will provide DeMint a platform to continue pushing the GOP in a conservative direction. According to their 2010 tax return, the organization's budget that year was $80 million. The man DeMint is replacing, Ed Feulner, makes over $1 million a year, which is a hell of a lot more than than the $174,000 DeMint makes now. He'll still have to spend a lot of his time raising money, and sit in boring meetings instead of boring hearings, but he'll also get a big salary bump and be treated with nearly the same deference around Washington that he is now. Sounds like a shrewd move.
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