Jim DeMint is the senior adviser to the Convention of States Project, former president of The Heritage Foundation, and a former Republican U.S Senator from South Carolina. In 2010, DeMint spearheaded Tea Party action. He looked to align the decentralized movement, calling it “part of an American awakening” and asserting people can “take back their government” and “No state is out of play.” Putting these words into action, DeMint then founded the political action committee, Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF). The SCF closely aligned itself with the Tea Party, raising $9.1 million to back successful first-time candidates Pat Toomey, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Ron Johnson, and Marco Rubio in the 2010 U.S. Senate election. DeMint resigned from the Senate on New Year’s Day 2013 to become President of the Heritage Foundation. In this current role, he has arguably more power than he ever did as a politician. More recently, DeMint played a crucial role in both shaping public opinion against the Affordable Care Act and accelerating the subsequent federal shutdown.
Despite his moderate demeanor, DeMint has been regarded by supporters and enemies alike for his staunch conservative viewpoints, even receiving a 100% rating from the American Conservative Union in 2012. DeMint’s time in Congress made apparent his radical policy stances and adamant refusal to compromise. In addition to helping the likes of Marco Rubio in 2010, DeMint supported Ted Cruz’s Senate bid in 2012. Cruz acknowledged DeMint’s influence, claiming “I would not be in the United States Senate if it were not for Jim DeMint.” And there is no doubt that DeMint benefited from such relationships as well—upon being sworn into the Senate, Cruz hired five former DeMint aides to his personal staff. As exemplified by his backing of candidates like Rubio and Cruz, DeMint is passionate in his far-right views and adamant to rid the Republican party of the few left who are willing to find common ground. Divisive behavior like this makes DeMint one of the most dangerous leaders on the far Right. Benjy Sarlin summed his legacy perfectly in noting “DeMint embodied the “party of no” label the GOP earned over the last four years, frequently leading filibusters to stymie President Obama’s agenda and often threatening to scuttle deals reached between the White House and Republican leaders.”
After being disillusioned by Democratic electoral success in 2012, DeMint elected to use a new approach to push conservative values. His work as a market researcher and his time in both Senate and Congress made him well aware of the impact major political lobbies and outside organizations have on U.S policy. The Heritage Foundation, a non-profit think tank whose mission is to “formulate and promote conservative public policies,” is a powerhouse for far-Right ideologies. The think tank has been prominently cited by many conservative policy makers, including John Boehner, Robert Novak, and Mike Lee. In addition to being widely cited, within the past two decades, the Heritage Foundation helped George W. Bush’s defend his nomination of Michael Mukasey for Attorney General and helped Newt Gingrich build a Republican majority in Congress back in the 90s by advising him on his “Contract With America.”
Despite earning over $75 million in annual operating revenue, the Heritage Foundation remains a tax-exempt organization. Though advertising itself as an independent research group, the Heritage Foundation’s work has been accused of being intentionally biased and lacking credibility.
DeMint was highly aware of the power his position granted him in implementing the conservative agenda. In an interview, he told NPR “There’s no question in my mind that I have more influence now on public policy than I did as an individual Senator.” As one of the first politicians to claim that President Obama “gutted welfare reform”, he continued this rhetoric through the Heritage Foundation, making him a key player in the recent federal government shutdown. He has also spoken at the annual “Value Voters Summit” hosted by the Family Research Council, a radical Christian-right organization whose anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ stances have caused extensive damage.
Perhaps one of the most dangerous of DeMint’s strengths is his ability to portray himself as a moderate, despite extreme conservative views, an appearance he has worked to manufacture. As a political speaker, he tends to avoid radical rhetoric most often associated with the Tea Party, preferring to use assets such as the SCF to forward his ideologies. By presenting himself as rational and moderate, and regular appearances on liberal media programs such as The Daily Show, he has found success promoting the radical policy agenda of the far-right—as opposed to politicians like Michelle Bachmann or Allen West, who run a higher risk of alienating more moderate voters. His persuasive speaking abilities enable him to raise massive amount of money for conservative causes and candidates, greatly increasing his sphere of influence.
DeMint was forced to resign from the Heritage Foundation in May 2017 by the board, after a year of organizational chaos following his decision to align Heritage with Donald Trump. Insiders felt that he had turned Heritage from a respected think tank to a partisan, ideological tool of the Tea Party.
Since, DeMint has taken a new job as senior adviser to the Convention of States Project, a conservative group advocating a new constitutional convention that would cut back federal spending and power. Also, he has formed a new group, the Conservative Partnership Institute, that would providing training and support for conservative congressmen, Capitol Hill staffers and other activists in the nation’s capital.
But the Convention of States is more alarming. It has reported recruited 27 of the minimum 34 state legislatures in order to invoke Article V of the Constitution. If it succeeds, then there is nothing - according to various legal experts – to prevent a convention from completely rewriting the Constitution and Bill of Rights. And it would be completely open to abuse from various special interest groups. Many already seek to eliminate most taxes and prevent the government from carrying out many of its current functions, such as regulating interstate commerce and removing all the protections it provides to the public.
*Britt Moorman and Gabe Meadow contributed to this profile.