WASHINGTON -- Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, one of the most influential leaders of the tea party wing of the party, will retire in January to head a conservative think tank in Washington.
DeMint has been a renegade on and off Capitol Hill, and earned a reputation for often rousing – and clashing – with his colleagues over his hard-line positions. The two-term senator carried those views to the campaign trail, where his political action committee endorsed right-flank candidates – often against the party’s wishes.
“This is a crucial moment for America and for the conservative movement—and we are seizing it,” said Thomas A. Saunders, chairman of the Heritage Foundation, which announced the move.
“Jim DeMint has shown that principled conservatism remains a winning political philosophy,” Saunders said. “His passion for rigorous research, his dedication to the principles of our nation’s founding, and his ability to translate policy ideas into action make him an ideal choice to lead Heritage to even greater success.”
The think tank’s founder, Edwin J. Feulner, will step down as president in April.
DeMint, 62, had always hewed to self-imposed term limits. First elected to the Senate in 2004, he easily won reelection in 2010. That pivotal tea party year, he endorsed several candidates, including Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, who lost the general election. Those losses helped prevent the Republicans from gaining enough seats to win the majority in the Senate.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, vacancies in South Carolina would be filled by GOP Gov. Nikki Haley, and serve until the next election.
On Thursday, DeMint was at Heritage headquarters, which is a short walk from the Senate side of the Capitol, joining a staff meeting.
He is expected to take over the president’s position in April.
Melanie Mason contributed to this report.