WASHINGTON — South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint's resignation to take over as the president of the Heritage Foundation stunned the political world on Thursday and raised questions about his future, the Senate and the future of the conservative movement.
"It's a creative, innovative move, and demonstrative of the newer way of thinking about how to use new tools today to move an agenda, where service in government is just one way, but not the only way, to drive the conversation," said Eric Ueland, a former Senate chief of staff and now a lobbyist with the Duberstein Group.
That way of thinking marks a sea of change from even a decade ago when the idea of DeMint abandoning his prime perch in the Senate — he had built a sort of conservative hub within the GOP conference — to head a think tank would have seemed unthinkable.
But the past decade has shown the influence that figures outside of elected office — Rush Limbaugh and Grover Norquist to name two — can have on the shape and direction of the conservative movement.
"He sees his role now as working with the grass roots on the outside to bring out real change in Washington," said Matt Hoskins, a longtime political adviser to DeMint who now runs a super PAC once affiliated with the South Carolina senator. "It also means that Republicans have a strong leader on the outside to support them when they do what's right and hold them accountable when they don't."