Why is Republican Sen. Jim DeMint stepping down? It's a question many are asking after the Tea Party favorite announced Thursday that as of Dec. 31 he was leaving the Senate to head the hard-right Heritage Foundation.
The South Carolina lawmaker claimed he wasn't abandoning the GOP fight but that the "conservative movement needs strong leadership in the battle of ideas." But as Hardball host Chris Matthews noted, DeMint was behind many failed right wing Senate challengers, like Christine O'Donnell, Ken Buck and Richard Mourdock. He also pointed out there's a purge in the Republican House underway, with Speaker Boehner dumping a number of extreme, right-leaning lawmakers from committee assignments.
Democratic strategist Bob Shrum said the GOP leadership was clearly trying to reign DeMint in. "They've said 'look, you can't go out there anymore and go after these conservative Republicans...because you're setting us up to lose Senate seats.' Now that he's out of there, he can become a kind of cross between Grover Norquist and the Jim DeMint he always was. He can drive these hard right ideas, but he can also sponsor hard-right candidates in Republican primaries."
Republican strategist John Brabender agreed with Shrum, saying DeMint "will have a bigger stick" at the Heritage Foundation. "He doesn't have to worry on voting on issues he doesn't care about or being the bad Republican like he did this week and was criticizing Boehner for rolling over, as he saw it, on the [fiscal] deal with Obama."
Personal finances might also have something to do with DeMint's decision, too. "He's going to make a lot more money," said Shrum. "Ed Fuller, who is leaving [the Heritage Foundation], makes $1 million a year. DeMint, I guess, has a net worth of about $140,000, according to official records."