Analysis: DeMint's Lack of Enthusiasm Speaks Volumes
Candidates in need of a boost will have to look elsewhere
With multiple media outlets reporting that Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., will probably not be endorsing a Republican candidate for president, the most coveted endorsement in the state — if not the country — is no longer to be had.
The news undoubtedly comes as a disappointment to a field that is in need of a spark.
DeMint’s unwillingness to offer an endorsement is another sign of the lack of enthusiasm for any of these candidates, said Jeri Cabot, an adjunct professor of political science at the College of Charleston.
DeMint endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2008, but has said this year that he believes he may have committed to a candidate too early and told his supporters to "keep their powder dry" until the right conservative came along.
Romney, who is reported to have met with DeMint last week, could have used the boost, but considering polls show him well ahead in New Hampshire and competitive in other early primary states such as Nevada and Florida, he is not in need of it as are some others.
Plus, DeMint’s support in 2008 primary only got Romney a fourth-place finish in South Carolina.
Georgia businessman Herman Cain, the nominal frontrunner, could have used DeMint’s endorsement if for no other reason than to change the topic from the sexual harassment charges that are currently plaguing him. Cain appears to be in the type of freefall that has beset earlier frontrunners like U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
The candidate who seemed most aligned with DeMint — at least when he first declared his candidacy — was Perry. But Perry’s fall from favor since announcing in August has been profound. After leading the Palmetto State in late summer, the latest polls have him in single-digits.
It’s true Perry passed on DeMint’s Labor Day Freedom Forum, but experts Patch spoke to believe that played no bearing in DeMint’s decision (Perry had to back out on short notice after his home state of Texas was overcome with wildfires).
It is possible that DeMint simply believes that Perry is neither the best conservative nor has the best chance to win.
That said, the candidate who could have benefited the most from a DeMint endorsement might have been Newt Gingrich. The former House Speaker has been steadily improving in polls in South Carolina and the support of a favorite son like DeMint might have been the shot in the arm his campaign needed.
Still, it might just come to policy rather than pure politics, according to consultant Taft Matney.
“Whether it’s healthcare, abortion, or immigration, a number of conservatives still feel their candidate isn’t out there yet,” Matney said. “Jim DeMint may very well be feeling the same way.”
It was during the last election cycle in 2010 that DeMint’s power came to fruition.
His Senate Conservatives Fund raised millions for what were thought to be longshot candidates. Some of those candidates ended up winning, such as Rand Paul in Kentucky, Marco Rubio in Florida, and Mike Lee in Utah. But, some of them lost, too.
Longtime political consultant Chip Felkel believes those losses played a factor in DeMint’s decision not to endorse one of the candidates back in the pack such as Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania or Bachmann.
“He does not want to be thought of as someone who only cares about ideology and not about winning,” Felkel said. “And he just might think he can do more long term good at the Senate and state level.”
Like Felkel, Spartanburg County Tea Party organizer Karen Martin believes that DeMint wants to expand on the success of the Senate Conservatives Fund.
“He understands his position and leading from the outside,” Martin said.
Just because DeMint is sitting out this go-round doesn’t mean he will again in 2016. Quite the contrary. Martin believes that should Romney win the nomination, DeMint will throw his support behind an up-and-coming conservative like Rubio or Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan.
Martin is not completely convinced DeMint will stay on the sidelines.
“He left himself a little wiggle room by saying that if one candidate is clearly more conservative he would support that candidate,” she said.
But for now, DeMint has stepped aside. Which allowed the speculation to continue on which candidate will garner Gov. Nikki Haley’s endorsement.