Tea party stalwart Jim DeMint's decision to leave the Senate to run the Heritage Foundation may say something about the ability to effect change from the outside, as opposed to the inside.
It may have been a coincidence, but it certainly seems highly symbolic that, on a day when the chattering class is increasingly buzzing about a likely Republican “cave” on taxes in the "fiscal cliff" negotiations, South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint announced he is leaving the Senate to head up the conservative Heritage Foundation.
The announcement was unexpected: Senator DeMint's term wasn't scheduled to expire until 2016. But in a way, the move isn’t all that surprising.
Consider: DeMint has been one of the Senate’s most far-right members, a tea party stalwart who, more than almost anyone else in that body, worked to recruit ideological allies and challenge those in his party he deemed insufficiently conservative.
He was known for his early championing of conservative stars like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. But in 2012, he also had some high-profile embarrassments – including Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, two candidates who lost Senate bids in states many Republicans felt they should have won. As Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) told NBC’s First Read when asked about the “lessons” of DeMint’s tenure: "I think if you're interested in having Republicans control the Senate, you have to back Republicans who fit their state and who can win in a general election, not just in the primary.”