Why Jim DeMint Doesn't Want to Be Senate Majority Leader

If he's the new power center in the Senate, why isn't Sen. Jim DeMint considering a leadership challenge to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell?

After all, DeMint has encouraged and seeded the Senate campaigns of several of the winning insurgents, and managed to raise for them a cool total of $2.5 million. He's a "kingmaker" who is more ideologically entrepreneurial than Sen. Saxby Chambliss, more savvy than Sen. James Inhofe, and more ambitious than Sen./Dr. Tom Coburn. He's thrown himself in front of several Republican initiatives that don't comport with the true conservative philosophy as he sees it.

Easy answer: the last place DeMint wants to be is in the leadership. He's positioning himself to be, along with stodgy House minority leader John Boehner, the primary foil for the White House and the Democrats. As a bogeyman, where does he rank on the Gingrich-Palin-Boehner spectrum? DeMint is more disciplined than Gingrich, more polished than Palin, and smarter than Boehner.

Does DeMint -- by playing villain -- have something to gain? Going into the presidential cycle, it may catapult him into the political stratosphere. Will he be tempted by the White House? Will its current occupants egg him on? Will he bite? Is he smart to want to bite?

Congressional leadership is the touch of death for anyone with presidential -- nay, vice presidential -- ambitions. Think of how the position of Senate majority (or minority) leader treated the careers of Bill Frist, Trent Lott, and Mitch McConnell. By definition, you lose the base, because by position, you're a conciliator, a wheeler and dealer, a reconciler, a deliberator. Remember, Tea Party conservatives blame Republican leaders for failing to stop Obama-care, the stimulus, and other measures. Oh, and DeMint, amiable as he is, doesn't have the votes to be leader, having angered more than half the caucus because of his opposition to earmarks and his refusal to accept unanimous consent on even some of their pet issues.

So why is DeMint in the Senate if not to legislate? What's his goal? I think it's simple: he wants to pull the party to the right. I think he wants to be vice president down the line for a more traditional GOP candidate like Tim Pawlenty or Mitt Romney. And he's in the catbird seat right now to do both.

Presented by

Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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