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'DeMint's Zeal'

8:53 AM, Dec 10, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Ross Douthat, writing in the New York Times:

IN November 2008, just after John McCain was routed by Barack Obama, Jim DeMint addressed a Myrtle Beach conference on the future of the Republican Party. The first-term South Carolina senator was there to reassure his audience: Republicans might have lost an election, but conservatism hadn’t lost the country.

His party’s only problem, DeMint promised, was insufficient ideological commitment. Republicans had strayed too far from small-government principle during the Bush era, and then foolishly nominated a moderate like McCain. “Americans do prefer a traditional conservative government,” he told his listeners. But in 2008, between Bush’s deficit spending and McCain’s heterodoxies, “they just did not believe Republicans were going to give it to them.”

This comforting perspective quickly became the official conventional wisdom on the post-Bush right, mouthed with varying degrees of conviction by politicians, pundits and Tea Party activists. But DeMint wasn’t content with rhetoric. He decided to put theory into action and throw his support behind primary candidates who fit his vision of a more authentically conservative Republican Party.

DeMint’s zeal gave his party’s leadership headaches, and his support for no-hopers like Christine O’Donnell helped cost Republicans seats they might have won. But his crusade also succeeded in making the Republican Senate caucus much more interesting — thinning the ranks of time-servers, and elevating rising stars like Marco Rubio and idiosyncratic figures like Rand Paul.

Whole thing here.

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