The Republicans’ anti-tax Tea Party wing, which failed in its goal to defeat President Barack Obama and the Senate Democratic majority, is rising to leadership positions in policy and activist groups that have guided the party’s direction for years.
South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, who helped insurgent candidates oust incumbent Republicans in primaries, announced yesterday that he will lead the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, a group that has served as an incubator for the party’s policy and legislative ideas for decades.
Last week, former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey confirmed his resignation as chairman of FreedomWorks, telling Mother Jones Magazine that the Tea Party activist group was moving in an “unproductive” direction. FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe, who now fills Armey’s void, will maintain its direction, the group’s spokeswoman said.
The turnover at two of the party’s most influential aligned organizations comes just months after the Cato Institute, another Washington-based organization, settled a legal battle aimed at preventing it from being taken over by David and Charles Koch, industrial billionaires who helped finance an expansion of the Tea Party movement through Americans for Prosperity.
“What you’ve got is a great movement with great ideas that’s now becoming a true force,” said Brent Bozell, president of For America, a nonprofit that advocates for Christian values. He praised the pick of DeMint to head Heritage as “a master stroke. It’s just the kind of move that will rejuvenate conservatism.”
“The Heritage Foundation is the premier think-tank research organization – the premier idea group for the conservative movement,” he said. “This will give me the opportunity to help take our case to the American people and to translate our policies into real ideas.”
Matt Calabria, director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute, said DeMint’s hiring “is recognition by Heritage that the energy is not with the Republican establishment.” The choice “shows they are moving more toward the Tea Party than the mainstream.”
DeMint is a “conservative kingmaker” who helped elect Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, Texas Senator-elect Ted Cruz, andArizona Senator-elect Jeff Flake, Erick Erickson wrote in a post yesterday on Red State, a conservative website.
“Without Jim DeMint we would still have a conservative movement that is part and parcel theRepublican Party in name, word, and deed,” Erickson said. “DeMint showed the Republican Party can be challenged from within and that conservatism can be distinctly voiced from within the party moving it right, not moving with it.”
The departures of Feulner, a founding trustee of Heritage in 1973, and Armey, who helped start FreedomWorks in 2004 — both in their 70s — signal a generational turnover, said Colin Hanna, president of Let Freedom Ring, a political group that has worked with the Tea Party, “and that’s a good thing. We have a very deep bench.”
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