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Published: Wednesday, 12/12/2012

Walking away

South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint is leaving the U.S. Senate, which he helped paralyze for nearly two terms, to run the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington.

Mr. DeMint’s legislative career spanned 14 years. He spent nine years in the Senate, where the Tea Party favorite failed to pass or introduce a single major piece of legislation. His role among Senate Republicans was chief arbiter of ideological purity.

There was little love lost between Mr. DeMint and the leaders of his party who believed that occasionally compromising with Democrats to get legislation passed is good for America. In his role as a conservative kingmaker, Mr. DeMint routinely backed untenable House and Senate candidates in GOP primaries.

Although his picks often beat moderate incumbents, they were just as likely to be beaten by Democrats in the general election. This strategy helped cause Republicans to blow a golden opportunity to capture the Senate in 2010.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky generally considered Senator DeMint a disruptive presence who undermined their authority and influence. But Mr. DeMint leaves behind a handful of Republicans who credit him with helping to get them elected. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who is believed to be a front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, is the most prominent and grateful of his political disciples.

In moving from the Senate to the Heritage Foundation, Mr. DeMint will have an influential platform to lobby voters and his former colleagues. He’ll continue to harass the GOP and vex Democrats from a perch that was once a bastion of high-minded conservatism.

With Mr. DeMint at the helm, you can already smell the tea — and the cordite.



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