Is Jim DeMint The Most Hated Man In Washington?

Machiavelli’s famous advice to politicians is that it is better to be feared than loved. Less often quoted is an equally valuable admonition: avoid being hated.

Jim DeMint, the former senator-turned-Tea Party leader at the helm of the Heritage Foundation, never tried to win the love of the Republican establishment. He did, however, succeed over the past several years, first as the junior senator from South Carolina and since last year, as head of the GOP’s most prominent think tank, at being feared by his fellow Republicans. But now he finds himself in the position of being merely despised.

Just a few months ago, headlines declared DeMint the “shadow speaker” who “pulls the strings” in Washington, and he was credited with almost singlehandedly grinding Washington to a halt. (Including by DeMint, who boasted that he had “more influence now on public policy than I did as an individual senator.”) The real House speaker, Ohio’s John Boehner, couldn’t stop the government shutdown that DeMint and Tea Party groups orchestrated and cheered when they convinced a majority of House Republicans to go along with their defund-Obamacare-or-else strategy last October.

That was then. But ask around Washington now, and you’ll hear that while DeMint is undoubtedly still a Republican power broker (and a high-profile one at that, whose new book, a gauzy tribute to the USA called Falling in Love with America Again, comes out Tuesday just in time for some election-year proselytizing), he no longer strikes fear in establishment Republican hearts.

“I think it was a big blow to DeMint,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said of Boehner’s outburst. “And in some ways it was a learning moment for DeMint. Whether he recaptures that previous influence is up to him and that means sort of picking and choosing his battles.”

“[DeMint’s] moved it more in the political direction than the policy direction,” said O’Connell. “If he moves it too far, he could be—how should I say it?—killing his own golden goose.”

“Heritage Action is getting the boom it’s getting because it’s got ‘Heritage’ in front of ‘Action,’” he continued. “If Heritage is weakened too much, there is no Action.”

Read more from Pema Levy at Politico Magazine 

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Analysis & Political Strategy