I recently sat down with the Wall Street Journal to discuss the Senate Conservatives Fund and its role in helping elect strong conservative leaders to the United States Senate this year.
I wanted to share this exclusive interview with you and thank you for everything you've done to make this a successful year for those candidates who will truly stand up and fight for the principles of freedom.
Please forward this story to your family and friends and encourage them to visit our TAKE AMERICA BACK website. We have a historic opportunity to create an earthquake election this year that will restore America's greatness, but we need everyone to get involved.
Thank you again for your support and encouragement. You give me hope and inspire me to keep fighting.
United States Senator
Chairman, Senate Conservatives Fund
THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW
AUGUST 28, 2010
A Senator and His 'Disciples'
The Senate's stalwart opponent of big government is intent on electing some allies this year. His new PAC and growing anti-Obama sentiment mean he just might succeed.
By STEVE MOORE
'I'd rather lose with Pat Toomey than win with Arlen Specter any day." That's South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint defending his Senate Conservatives Fund, a new PAC that has taken Washington by storm.
The fund-raising group has already helped eight underdog Reaganite candidates win Republican Senate primaries this year. In two years, the fund has raised and spent nearly $2 million from nearly 50,000 individual contributors.
Mr. DeMint's mission is to bring more Jim DeMints to the Senate-that is, people with an unfailing antagonism to big government. But his string of victories, often against establishment candidates, has many of his Republican colleagues grumbling. They say Mr. DeMint is pushing candidates through the primaries who are too far to the right to take back vulnerable seats from Democrats in November. Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott recently spoke for many in the party when he said it didn't need anymore "Jim DeMint disciples."
Over the past five years, Mr. DeMint has established himself as the pre-eminent conservative in Congress-he has a near perfect National Taxpayer Union rating-with Tom Coburn of Oklahoma a close second. As we eat lunch at Mr. DeMint's favorite restaurant in his hometown of Greenville, our conversation is often interrupted by well-wishers thrilled to see their senator in person and all with pretty much the same message: "Keep fighting those big spenders."
Mary O'Grady and Stephen Moore give President Obama the roadmap for moving to the center, analyze today's economic report, and respond to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's speech this morning in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Mr. DeMint savors his PAC's most recent victory in Colorado, where $141,000 in radio ads and direct contributions helped Ken Buck defeat Jane Norton, the choice of Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn. Mr. DeMint grouses that Mr. Buck was never even presented to his colleagues as a "viable alternative, which seemed unfair." He adds, only half-kiddingly, that what did in Ms. Norton was that she was "endorsed by 25 Republican senators, which made her the establishment candidate." These days, that's the kiss of death.
Other victors helped by Mr. DeMint include Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mr. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Mike Lee of Utah (but only after incumbent Sen. Robert Bennett was knocked out at the Utah GOP convention). He says his goal is to raise $5 million this cycle. That's a pittance in big-money politics, but Mr. DeMint's strategic, targeted spending has flipped more races than even he thought possible.
"I'm not a kingmaker," he insists, even though that's precisely what many political pros call him. "And these guys don't want to be kings. We've got too many kings in Washington already."
A year ago, Mr. DeMint was demoralized and considered not running for re-election. "Why do I want to beat my head against the wall for another six years?" he recalls thinking. "I called my wife in December and said I'm ready to give it up. I'm not making any headway and most of my own colleagues are against me up here. I don't even like playing a contentious role. I like to be a strategic policy guy."
How many Republicans can be counted on to follow him into these budget battles? "Well, there's Coburn, who has got the courage to go out and make a scene on the floor or to stand up in a conference meeting and stand up to the appropriators. We don't have anyone else." Hence the PAC, which he says is the culmination of years of frustration from working within the system to fix Washington.
"When I got to Congress in 1999, instead of working on the reforms that I ran on-wealth-creating personal accounts and individually owned health insurance and some simple tax, the things that I thought all of us believed in-instead we worked on redistricting and getting the vulnerables on the right committees and getting earmarks to the people who needed them. Everything was about numbers and electing more Republicans. We'd always promise to get to the principles later." He shakes his head: "I just thought maybe there's something I don't understand."
He even admits: "I played along for a while. I asked for earmarks. I thought that following [longtime South Carolina Sens.] Fritz Hollings and Strom Thurmond, part of my job was getting a fair share for South Carolina. But we spent most of each year directing appropriations for parochial projects and it undermined our brand as Republicans and our entire anti-big government agenda."
In 2006 and 2007, he tried to fund raise for the GOP and the official Senate campaign committee. "I discovered that people were just so frustrated with the Republicans. I was over there at the Senate committee making fund-raising calls and so many people were saying, 'I'm not giving you guys another dime until you start acting like Republicans.' That's when I got the idea of starting a committee to just help conservative candidates."
His frustration boiled over in 2009 when the Republican Senatorial Committee endorsed Arlen Specter and Charlie Crist, neither of whom is a Republican one year later. Mr. DeMint was the first major political figure to endorse Marco Rubio against Mr. Crist in Florida. Although Mr. Rubio is embraced now as a rising star of the Republican Party, at the time people laughed. "Yeah, many of my Senate colleagues weren't too happy. I think in the beginning they thought what I was doing was such a small thing that it would not threaten them." How wrong they were.
As the midterms approach, Mr. DeMint is also up for re-election, but his hapless Democratic opponent, Alvin Greene, is fighting a felony pornography charge. So most of his focus is on the five to eight stalwart conservatives who might be joining him in the Senate next year, and in the fight for limited government.
He tells me the story of a meeting that Republican senators had with Ron Johnson, the businessman and GOP senatorial candidate in Wisconsin. "He was asked why he's running for Senate and he stood up, and I hadn't met him yet, he looked straight at me and he said, 'I just want to quote DeMint here. I'm coming here to join the fight, not the club.' And I laughed and said, 'Well, this is the club.'"
That club got disrupted further last week when incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski apparently lost to firebrand challenger Joe Miller in Alaska's Republican primary. (Absentee votes are still being counted.) "It's encouraging to me what happened in Alaska with Miller," Mr. DeMint told me yesterday. "It should be a wake-up call to Republicans that politicians who go to Washington to bring home the bacon aren't wanted-even in a state like Alaska that has gotten so much pork under senators like Ted Stevens. Voters are saying 'We're not willing to bankrupt the country to benefit ourselves.'"
The Alaska race highlights the tensions that are taking hold within the Republican Party. Can moderates and conservatives co-exist? At the moment, it seems that such unity would be necessary for taking back majorities from the Democrats. Mr. DeMint believes that "sure, numbers matter, I understand that, but not if we have to cave in our principles."
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