Those of you betting that “Michele Bachmann’s national influence is over, post-election:” you guys scored big today.
Senator Jim DeMint, a high profile “Teavangelical” hero and ally of Bachmann–announced today that he is retiring. Weird, because: US Senators serve six year terms, and DeMint was just re-elected to a second term two years ago.
With four years remaining in that term and a safely conservative seat to run for again in 2016, DeMint has no obvious personal political motivation to leave the Senate now, immediately. People are giving “official” explanations (discussed below)–but they’re not credible explanations.
So it’s a stunner for a powerful Senate ultraconservative to decide that “this huge budget, tax hike, big government battle”–is the perfect moment to abandon ship and his career-long fight against the liberals.
Conclusion one: DeMint thinks Republicans are about to lose this battle and approve tax hikes. And he’s right; yesterday Speaker Boehner announced that he would approve some tax hikes and they would hit “guess who, the rich.” DeMint doesn’t want to be around when that happens and the Senate approves it–so he’s fleeing the scene.
Conclusion two: Better to flee to a conservative “city of refuge,” than to stick around in office looking impotent and useless, as conservative control of US policy caves in all around you. Thus, DeMint is leaving to take a top spot at the conservative policy gestation laboratory–the Heritage Foundation.
DeMint is “doing a Sarah Palin”–running out on his duties as an elected official before he gets tangled up in any more ‘votes of record.’ If it’s all about their money and career, Palin and DeMint were right to flee. Here’s why:
If you depart office before the tough votes are taken and the policy outcomes are decided–you can sit on the conservative sidelines and criticize the game of Republicans who do have to govern via compromise. Choosing to sit on the sidelines is cowardly, spineless. But a big name conservative can make good money doing that–and keep his or her reputation “as an uncompromising, loud-mouthed conservative” intact.
There’s good precedent for this strategy. Ronald Reagan didn’t get traction as a conservative candidate for president until after he left the governor’s office in California. So long as he was out of office during the seventies, there were no “official” Reagan decisions for opponents to attack. Once Reagan re-entered private life, he was free to pretend to be whatever kind of conservative suited his political ambitions at the moment. He could claim to be hardline conservative when speaking to conservatives, and could deny he was a hardline conservative when he debated Carter–because there were no recent government policy decisions to hold against him.
Ditto Romney in the last election (he could claim to be anything, because he’d been out of government so long.)
Romney and Palin’s fate and reputations show that the strategy doesn’t always work. It’s not fail-safe. It’s just a path of possible political survival for ambitious conservatives faced with liberal times. Stick around in office while liberals are winning to fight a principled fight for small government: you acquire the track record and reputation of a “loser.” But if you leave office and run out on the fight in government when the liberals are winning–you may have a comeback, a shot at being “another Reagan.”
We’re facing liberal times in American government. The economy is positioned for growth, and the Dem White House will get credit for that. Fox News announced that it’s sending Karl Rove and Dick Morris into remission for now. Rubio (proposed as the next savior of the national GOP) just admitted that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona just punched a reporter who asked her a question about climate change (Really, that just happened. Google it.)
And Obama’s approval rating just reached a three year high. And Boehner is exiling tea party congressmembers to non-factor committee assignments. And the GOP Congress’ surrender to Obama will cripple current GOP officeholders, making them vulnerable in the next primaries.
But I put Michele Bachmann’s name in the headline of this post. Bachmann and DeMint were political Siamese Twins when it came to the tea party and conservative evangelical positions. It must trouble her to see DeMint deserting a sinking ship. Other Bachmann allies remain in the House, but they’re being marginalized.
She’s in danger of sticking around in office to cast two more years of impotent tea party votes–thus acquiring that “loser” reputation among conservatives that DeMint and Palin manage to duck by leaving office.
So score another one this week, for the political junkies who are convinced that “Bachmann’s over.”
LINK: The Kos on the DeMint resignation…