DeMint may help GOP ‘understand’ an offer it can’t refuse

Soon-to-be Heritage President Jim DeMint promises to make Republicans "understand" him.
Soon-to-be Heritage President Jim DeMint promises to make Republicans "understand" him.
AP/Patrick Semansky

Here’s a topic for House Republicans in Williamsburg, VA, this weekend: Republicans should be nervous that Jim DeMint is going to help them “understand” conservative ideas.

That’s what the ex-South Carolina senator, who bailed on his second term for the more remunerative confines of the Heritage Foundation, wrote recently in The Washington Post.

It’s toward the end of the essay where he writes:

“Heritage will start this year to help the conservative movement understand how Americans from all walks of life perceive public policy issues and how to communicate conservative ideas and solutions.”

Steve Benen over at Maddowblog (corporate synergy!) took issue with the “think” part of think tank concerning Heritage. And he’s right to do so.

I was more interested in DeMint’s promise to make the conservative movement “understand.” Because when a man says he’s going to help the organization “understand” something, we usually have to put quote marks around “the organization” as well.

Helping someone “understand” is how parents preface the “we pay the bills in this house” speech. And, in fact, DeMint actually may help elected Republicans “understand” something very similar.

One of the under-appreciated aspects of Heritage is that it’s the only “think tank” with a 501(c)4, which is akin to calling someone “the only academic with a bazooka.” Euphemistically called “social welfare organizations”, groups like Heritage Action for America may collect money from anonymous donors and then spend it on campaign ads. The law is incredibly vague on the kind of content allowed. However, a rule of thumb is that while these ads can’t expressly tell people for whom to vote, they can help voters “understand” that they should “Tell Congressman So-and-so that his socialist, anti-Bible and -guns talk is not what makes America great.”

Heritage Action only spent about $227,000 in the last cycle trying to influence elections, which is beans in the dark money universe. But that’s where Jim DeMint comes in.

DeMint’s Senate Conseratives Fund last year spent almost $16 million on candidates, including the likes of Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, and Josh Mandel. Yes, each comes with his own laugh track. But look at one of the two winners DeMint backed: Ted Cruz. The freshman senator wasn’t supposed to win the primary. Yet, DeMint backed Cruz early and helped the future senator defeat Rick Perry’s horse in that primary race.

Yes, DeMint and others beat Rick Perry in Texas. Which just goes to show you what kind of year Perry had.

I don’t find DeMint’s posturing here—assuming, of course, I’m reading tea leaves correctly—particularly shocking. Not for him. And certainly not for Heritage.

This is, after all, the organization that in the 1990s reportedly accepted money from an organization with strong financial ties to South Korea’s government—just as Heritage’s president, the man DeMint will replace, was urging stronger ties with the South and bashing President Clinton’s dialogue with the North. Nothing illegal about any of this, mind you. Just nothing particularly “think tank-y” about it either.

DeMint may help GOP 'understand' an offer it can't refuse